Employee recognition sounds good on its face, but can it be overdone or mishandled? Dr. Sajjad Fazel believes that’s possible, along with other trip-ups that could harm employees’ mental health.
Fazel, a research associate and public health advocate, and psychiatrist Lebogang Phahladira weighed this and other factors that have positive and negative influences on mental health in the workplace during an Africa Tweet Chat.
“Studies have shown providing recognition and gratitude in workplaces not only motivates workers but also improves their mental health by reducing stress,” Fazel said. “While providing recognition is encouraged, problems may arise when there is favoritism, discrimination and bias in the workplace. This would do more harm.
“Favoritism in the workplace can cause employees to be demotivated, isolated and depressed,” he said. “It can affect their productivity and creativity as well.”
Communication should convey transparency and accountability in the workplace.
“The most important point is to provide employees with honest feedback, gratitude and recognition without any bias or favoritism,” Fazel said. “This can be done by not only recognizing the ones who are most productive but also those trying their best.
“Another initiative that could be implemented is to create a culture of supporting each other,” he said. “Whenever staff helps each other, they should be encouraged and appreciated by their colleagues.”
Although mental illness can be treated well, relapse is always possible.
“Providing participation trophies is good,” Fazel said. “Some believe it ‘dilutes’ the success factor for winners. However, if not trophies, it is still beneficial to recognize those who participated in one way or another.”
In any case, verbal appreciation is a cornerstone for successful communication.
“This is why having an open transparent communication at work and a friendly work culture is important,” Fazel said. “It’s all about breaking barriers between people and facilitating discussion.”
He explained that mental health relapse occurs when people experience challenges and setbacks in their mental health. This is often characterized by worsening symptoms. Individuals suffering from mental health conditions can relapse due to triggers such as these:
- Discontinuing medication
- Using drugs and alcohol
- Being emotionally overwhelmed or under stress
- Conflict in relationships
- Illness or death of a loved one
Similarly, Fazel said mental health relapse might show itself with these signs:
- Too much or too little sleep
- Feeling tense, anxiety or hostile
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Decline in personal hygiene
- Feeling paranoia or seeing increased hallucinations
- Confusing speech
- False beliefs or delusions
- Increase in risk-taking behaviors
In these instances, Fazel recommended ways to handle mental health relapse:
- Recognize the trigger and warning signs.
- Reach out to your social support network.
- Use stress-reduction techniques such as breathing, meditation and yoga.
- Write in a journal how you feel.
- Meet with a peer counselor.
- Take time off from responsibilities.
“It is important to understand that having a mental health episode is nothing to be ashamed of,” Fazel said. “It happens to a lot of people. The wisest things to do are understand your triggers, recognize warning signs, and build a support network.”
Just as with physical illness, those suffering from mental illness should not play doctor.
“This happens when individuals do not fully understand their triggers and warning signs,” Fazel said. “It could also happen when there is a lack of social support networks.”
Phahladira added that prompt action makes a big difference in outcomes.
“Early detection, recognition or awareness of symptoms and signs suggestive of relapse is important,” he said. “Social support, combating stigma and appropriate pathways to care for early intervention may limit unwanted adverse consequences related to relapse.
“Relapse prevention is better,” Phahladira said. “Adherence to treatment, social support, appropriate educational or occupational support, abstaining from illicit drugs and promoting physical health is important.”
Those who contend with mental health – as patient or provider – have to contend with inaccurate media portrayals.
“There is a lot of improvement that needs to be done in relation to mental health in the media,” Fazel said. “Often times, the media confuses mental illnesses and exacerbates certain stigmas. One such example is labeling a shooter as mentally ill.
“If a shooter is mentally ill, it’s a different scenario,” he said. “However, the media is quick to judge people as being mentally ill when they commit acts of violence. This creates a bad image for those suffering from this condition and adds to the stigma.”
The messengers bear special responsibility for getting their information correct.
“It’s important for the media to reduce the stigma in society and treat individuals suffering from mental health conditions with dignity and respect,” Fazel said. “While there are some media that advocate for better mental health services and reduction of stigma, there’s still a lot more to be done. It begins by understanding that people are not defined by the condition they suffer from.
“When you speak about someone suffering from a mental health condition, do not say ‘They are mentally ill,’” Fazel said. “Instead, say, ‘They are suffering from a mental illness.’”
The “media” extends beyond news organizations.
“Movies and TV shows also miss-portray mental health conditions by displaying those suffering from it as being silly, stupid or unstable,” Fazel said. “This is a gross mischaracterization of the conditions and adds to the stigma.”
He has this advice for the media:
- Do not characterize individuals by the condition they suffer from.
- Do not use comical stereotypes when speaking of mental health.
- Respect those suffering from the condition.
- Ask if unsure.
“We need to educate the masses that mental health and mental illness are not synonymous,” Fazel said. “In addition, the public has to be educated on how to maintain good mental health just like the way we educate people on healthy eating.
“The memes and jokes further exacerbate false beliefs on mental health illnesses and dehumanize those suffering from it,” he said.
While Fazel believes media presenters could be better educated about mental health, he also lays blame closer to home.
“Not many health professionals get involved in discussions regarding mental health,” he said. “How many times has your physician asked you whether you have any problems in your personal life?
“There needs to be further training of health professionals when it comes to mental health,” Fazel said. “This is not given the priority it deserves in developing nations. Take a look at how much of the health budget African nations allocate for mental health.”
Similar problems arise when contending with stigmas related to mental illness.
“The stigma does not end with the layman only,” Fazel said. “It extends to health professionals as well. We need to push for an increase in mental health literacy and training for both professionals and the public alike.”
In an article, he analyzed the difference between fund allocations to mental health and that for other illnesses.
“Some of combating stigma involves providing education and training to nurses and other practitioners on mental health first aid,” Fazel said.
Even as professionals try to grasp the best treatments, there are people who don’t believe mental health problems are really a thing.
“The brain — like any organ of the human body — can ‘malfunction,’ leading to symptoms of mental illness,” Phahladira said. “The environment, genetics and cultural and religious beliefs influence the expression of mental illness. Diagnosis of some disorders is difficult and often takes time.
“Untreated mental health problems are associated with dire consequences for the individual and family,” he said. “Early intervention and treatment lead to better outcomes.”
Fazel disdains those who question the truth of mental illness.
“Mental health problems are as real as the air you breathe,” he said. “It is not something to be ashamed of just like the way you aren’t ashamed of diabetes or arthritis. The stigma that we associate with mental health is very wrong.
“There are numerous times when individuals, families and communities — especially in the developing nations — deny mental health problems due to fear of what others would say or how it would affect their reputation or sustenance in society,” Fazel said.
It’s no surprise that money can influence beliefs.
“There are times when communities and families deny mental health problems to avoid the high costs that come with treating and managing mental health disorders,” Fazel said. “Health insurance and accessibility to mental health services is the solution.
“In some societies, people believe that mental health illnesses do not exist,” he said. “Instead, they think symptoms are caused due to witchcraft and black magic. We can mitigate these beliefs by educating people in a humble way after understanding their concerns.”
Fazel wants everyone to get a key message: “Understand that mental health problems are disorders just like any other. We all must work hard to reduce the stigma.”
For good and ill, social media also has factored into mental health treatments.
“Social media has heightened awareness and helped many people find professional help,” Phahladira said. “However, it remains a contested platform. Misinformation about diagnosis and treatment remains a big problem.
“Stigma is a challenge, and some of the information shared on social media platforms has not been helpful,” he said. “I do, however, believe many people will find a positive message.”
Phahladira noted that the online reinforcement of stigma compounds the problem.
“Stigma makes disclosure of mental illness in the workplace difficult,” he said. “Many people fear discrimination.
“Work-related stress can precipitate relapses,” Phahladira said. “Therefore, appropriate placement and deployment is important to minimize the risk.”
Fazel also deals with digital pros and cons.
“Social media has brought significant change to our lives by improving communication and interaction,” he said. “Despite this, social media has increased loneliness and depression among young adults.
“One reason that social media causes depression and anxiety is because people often use it to compare their lives with that of others,” Fazel said. “This can cause stress and a sense of failure.”
He listed things that can reduce the side effects of social media on mental health:
- Reduce screen time.
- Realize that likes, follows and comments don’t define you.
- Understand that social media is just a tool, not your life.
“On the positive side, social media has also helped individuals suffering from mental health problems,” Fazel said. “There are many chatbots, forums and interventions that allow those suffering from a mental health episode to seek help online from professionals.
“Studies have shown that teens find social media-based mental health interventions engaging and supportive,” he said. “In a way, the anonymity on social media allows individuals to access mental health services online without fear of stigma.”
Fazel dove deeper into ways transparent communication affects employees’ mental health.
“This has a positive effect because it allows one to discuss problems and work-related stress,” he said. “Transparent communication is vital in reducing the mental health stigma at work. It allows employees to freely discuss various challenges they face and create solutions that would benefit them and the organization.
“Transparent communication needs to be respectful, confidential and free from judgment,” Fazel said.
He added important components of transparent communication:
- Clearly outlining employees’ tasks
- Creating a supportive work culture
- Reducing miscommunication
- Defining team roles and goals
Fazel and Phahladira outlined ways employees can become involved in mental health advocacy.
“They should inquire about mental health programs and create mental health awareness in their workplace by having an educational or training session for all staff,” Fazel said. “Employees should discuss with managers about having a transparent communication policy that allows for respectful discussions. Then employees can voice their concerns and challenges and together create solutions.
“Employees should continue to support colleagues who’ve suffered from mental health illnesses,” he said. “Involve them in workplace activities and make them feel welcome and as part of the team.”
One solution comes back to giving credit when it’s due.
“Employees can request gratitude cards, a gratitude wall or even gratitude and recognition rewards that build a friendly environment at work,” Fazel said, giving a link to resources on mental health in workplace settings.
Ultimately, everyone has to be engaged in a mental health program.
“We all have a duty to advocate for people with mental illness to be given opportunities in an open labor market,” Phahladira said. “It will help reduce stigma.
“Workplaces should provide support to people with mental illness,” he said. “It’s the same way they support people with other forms of disability and medical conditions.”