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Psychologist Patrick Psaila says companies should “put their money where they say” when talking about the importance of mental health in the workplace.

“They need to have a corporate wellness program in place, which means it gives a clear message to employees that it’s okay to speak up if you have mental health issues,” Psaila said, Director of PsyPotential Ltd.

It must be very clear that under no circumstances will workers be judged or penalised, but rather they must be given the necessary support. The corporate wellness program should include educational sessions and counseling services if needed, he added.

Additionally, he stressed that companies should realize that mental health issues are “just like any other illness.” “Just as you wouldn’t be ashamed to say you have a physical condition, there’s nothing wrong with saying you have a mental health issue.”

The Malta Independent Sunday sat down with Psaila to discuss Misco’s latest 2022 Employee Wellbeing in the Workplace survey, which showed a significant increase in the number of respondents reporting mental health issues and others saying that they didn’t relax after work.

Initially, Psaila was asked about the high number (79%) of respondents who said they had experienced mental health issues at work, and why this percentage reflects a 16% increase from the previous year.

He said it’s possible the increase is due to greater mental health awareness today.

“There’s also the fact that with awareness comes de-stigmatization, so where before it was something people were ashamed of and didn’t talk about, it’s now improved. It’s seen as a less taboo subject to talk about and admit to having mental health issues.If we were to look at previous years, I doubt how much the prevalence of depression and anxiety has actually increased as a result of the pandemic. ‘is possible.

In addition, a large number of people are stressed, which is the main contributing factor to mental health problems. The survey further revealed that respondents are mostly stressed due to tight deadlines, work pressure and heavy workload.

“These days, tight deadlines, work pressure and a heavy workload are what you expect. That’s the norm,” he said.

He said the question should be “whether they are realistic and whether the employer provides the right structures and support systems to meet those deadlines and workloads. It is essential for me”.

“If we talk about mental health at work, the responsibility lies with both the employer and the employees,” he said.

Psaila stressed the importance of having “psychological safety” in the workplace. He described this as a core responsibility of the employer.

“It means an environment where there is absolute respect, where people are valued and where there is no intimidation, belittlement or humiliation. So, for example, when an employee makes a mistake, he doesn’t need to be afraid to admit he made a mistake, the bosses will treat it as a basis to work from.

He clarified by saying that it also refers to “working conditions, working hours, work environment, teamwork, relationships, etc.”

However, he added that the employee also has a responsibility to manage their life and take care of their own mental health.

“I think our life choices and what we do, not only during work but also afterwards, have a major impact on how we deal with stress. Let’s take the most basic example: a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity. Science tells us it’s a huge stress buffer. If people adopt a lifestyle where they just go home, sit on the couch and watch TV, or even worse, start working again, then the stress hormone buildup will not recover and go away. not.”

He added that things like exercise, hobbies, relationships and/or socializing are essential to our mental well-being.

But why are there so many respondents who don’t relax after work (62%), and why among them, 76% think they don’t need to relax after work?

“I think part of it is a lack of wellness awareness and education. As a culture, historically, we had lifestyles that didn’t really require extra effort to maintain wellness. to be, because the ways of life were relatively simple, relatively healthy. Today everything has changed. The demands of work and the demands of reality have increased to such an extent that unless we make an intentional effort to take care of ourselves, we end up getting carried away by the current.”

“Non-traditional ways of working, now including remote working, mean that very often we’re on all the time, in terms of work. So unless we get used to creating pockets of sanity where we can relax and take care of ourselves and we intentionally fit them into our day, our week, our month, we might end up not realizing that we’re burning out.”

“Stress is a given, it’s not going away, it’s here to stay.” Psaila highlighted two main points that are key to helping our mental health: “preventing burnout and building resilience.”

He pointed out that burnouts precede mental health issues; therefore, it is important that you prevent this from happening.

It is important to build resilience to develop the tools and skills needed to deal with pressure and bounce back from adversity.

Additionally, we followed up on this point by asking him about the negative effects of relaxing by disclosing unhealthy habits.

He said these types of methods are called “numbing”. These are “unhealthy methods we use to unwind and relax. They are easy and accessible and they make us feel better in the short term, but in the long term they cause damage.

He gave examples of alcohol abuse, abuse of various types of drugs, excessive buying and spending, social media addiction, overeating, and more.

“You’re doing something that serves to numb the pain and in the short term it’s very easy and very accessible. get the same immediate benefits but in the long term they are detrimental and unfortunately because we tend to be a bit lazy we go for the easy way out which helps in the short term but not in the long term.”

The survey showed that 53% of respondents do not feel comfortable disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health issues to their current employer or manager. Additionally, 72% said they had never disclosed such issues to their employer or manager.

“Although it’s de-stigmatized, we still see it as potentially shameful or a sign of weakness. If I speak up and tell people I’m fighting, […] it could affect how they view me and it could work against me.”

He understands that this is easier said than done, however, he believes it is the duty of the employer or manager to adjust the work accordingly for anyone who may be struggling. of mental health.

What would convince a company to invest time and money in the mental health of its employees?

“There are models and research that show that when companies use corporate wellness programs, there’s a business case – less sickness absence, less people leaving because they can’t and the fact that people are more Basically, if you feel like your company cares about you and cares about you as an individual, not just as a number, there’s chances are you’ll be more loyal and work better and you’re going to want to do your best.”

He further argued that these methods pay off, not immediately, but the impact will greatly help companies in the long run, especially in attracting talent and retaining employees.

He referred to the “great resignation” that we are suffering right now because people are leaving and changing jobs. He underscored the importance for companies to implement corporate wellness programs which are also closely linked to a retention strategy, as people feel that they will be taken care of at work.

“I would add that even if it weren’t, we should do it out of ethical practice and values-based ethical leadership – we should treat people as human beings.”