Increasingly, we’re working in a world where we’re paid to think and create beyond the reaches of a computer; to build relationships and empathize with wide-ranging views.
How then must we address the issue of poor mental health in the workplace?
The World Economic Forum has classified mental health in the workplace as a concern, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorized mental stress at work as a syndrome. One recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
No longer about individuals alone
On the other hand, a PWC study has shown that for every dollar spent on developing a mentally healthy workplace can, on average, result in a positive return on investment (ROI) of 2.3. As members of the workforce in the UAE, what can we do to support better mental wellbeing at work?
As part of a series of conferences in leading cities around the world, The Marketing Society recently held its Bravest Conference in Dubai, providing speakers a comfortable space to have these uncomfortable conversations. As part of this, I hosted a panel with Mat Schramm, co-founder of online video therapy service Talkcircle.com, and Dani Hakim, co-founder of community mental well-being initiative Safe Space, about what needs to be done to support awareness and reduce stigma in the creative industries, in the UAE and regionally.
Home to over 200 nationalities, the UAE is a melting pot of races, religions and cultures, with varying degrees of awareness and different opinions on mental health. Whilst statistics are scarce, government.ae reports that in the Arab world, it is estimated that 17.7 per cent of the population suffer from depression.
The site also recognizes that this figure is only the tip of the iceberg because not everyone with mental health problems comes forward and seeks treatment due to the stigma associated with the disease. Take a look and you’ll see that solid work is taking place both at an emirate and national level to address public mental health, which is very encouraging.
Some sectors more prone
However, the creative sector is three times more likely to have mental health issues, according to studies by Ulster university. A study by UnLtd showed that 56 percent of professionals working in media, marketing or creative sectors exhibit some form of depression, and further research in the PR industry showed that over a fifth of specialists have a mental health condition.
Given that our mental output is our professional currency, given the encouraging RoI data, given the seriousness and scale of the issue, it’s time for our industry to start this conversation and tackle the challenges openly, together.
The marketing and communications industry is uniquely placed to raise awareness of such issues, given we’re in the business of busting taboos and creative, mass communication. The industry is also fairly unique in that we work across all other industries, providing marcomms professionals with the ability to advocate for mental health awareness initiatives and galvanize throughout industries, at scale.
There are many steps that can be taken to eradicate mental health taboos at work. Mentally healthy workplaces and effective, progressive management are two sides of the same coin, and evidence shows that organizations with increased mental wellbeing are 12 per cent more productive.
We need to improve the status quo through meaningful, industry-wide leadership, accountability and collaboration. We must take steps to reframe the mental health narrative in a way that encourages understanding and discussion at all levels, which helps to lessen the associated stigma.
Organizations can also implement various methods to facilitate employees’ mental wellness. They can sign up to Talkcircle.com, a cost-effective online mental health platform that enables virtual therapy for both companies and individuals via video or text-based chat. With corporate therapy packages available staff can seek professional help without HR oversight.
They can also collaborate with Safe Space, who can provide community and corporate programmatic structures that put long-term solutions in place to improve mental health. Other initiatives, such as corporate mental health first aid training, should certainly be considered also.
Globally recognized training for staff to teach them how to spot early signs of mental distress and allocating a mental health ambassador at work for employees to speak to can help tackle the issue.
And of course, there’s going back to basics. Mitigating workplace bullying, allowing staff to rest after hyper-intensive work periods, promoting a sense of security and facilitating good insurance all go a long way to better collective mental health. As do good, old-fashioned manners and common courtesy.
Overall, we need to understand that mental illness is not a rare curse, rather it’s increasingly common and requires supportive action. Preventative measures are key in a working environment; and in order to treat the problem, we need to move away from viewing mental health as being any different from physical health… and start a discussion, together, today.
Meredith Carson is an integrated marketing and communications strategist and contributor to The Marketing Society Middle East.