The role of leaders in supporting mental health at work

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Nick Imudia’s untimely death was sad and shocking. Nick, a former CEO of Konga Nigeria and one of the leading C-level talents at 45, reportedly jumped from his apartment in Lekki last week.

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His family has come against the report of the supposed suicide, claiming he showed no signs of depression and never made calls that appeared as suicide notes, as reported in the media.

His death brought back the memories of Charles Alaba Joseph, the late President and CEO of Mobitel, who died in a controversial circumstance that claimed to be suicide at first before it was declared to be a shot at his head on September 15, 2005.

His death occurred when the officials of a commercial bank and the appointed receivers of the company visited his office with police to take over the company.

Death by suicide is a mental health issue. It is becoming rampant due to the decentralisation of news in this social media age. Mental health sickness has been with humanity for ages, as have suicide attempts and deaths.

However, what is lacking in Africa is awareness of mental health illnesses, treatments, and the support needed to avert suicide. Suicidal thoughts preclude death, which is the outcome of a planned execution of one’s life due to depression.

Suicidal thoughts are not a mental health illness on their own but a symptom arising from mental and emotional trauma that is not well supported and managed. In Africa, we tend to stigmatise people with signs of mental weakness, which often leads to illness and suicide.

Many people with mental distress do not express it because of fear of discrimination, feelings of shame, or being unsure of the reactions of others. The likely response of people is to conclude that mental health illness is a spiritual attack.

People have spent most of their time on work-related matters before and after the recent remote work system created by the pandemic. They relate more with their work colleagues than their families in most cases. Having mental health awareness and care embedded in the workplace is critical to earlier detection and support.

Beyond detection, mental health illness requires reasonable adjustments to life and daily schedules for it to be reasonably managed. Aside from people’s reactions, there are fears of losing one’s job due to being declared unfit to work. Therefore, ensuring that our workplace leaders know and understand mental health issues and their impacts on people is crucial.

If the most vital capital to any organisation is the people, the investment in creating an enabling environment for people with signs of mental weakness has a return higher than the loss of productivity and the shocks to families and colleagues of people who get to the stage of committing suicide.

What are the roles of leaders in supporting mental health at work?

Research shows that people spend two-thirds of their weekly time on work and work-related activities, including engaging with colleagues. Given this fact, the first role of a leader is to create an enabling environment for vulnerability—a family-like workplace with trusting teams where everyone can express their views and feelings without being condemned.

“The likely response of people is to conclude that mental health illness is a spiritual attack.”

No leader can give what they don’t have. The starting point is for leaders to know that everyone is susceptible to mental health illness, and we have triggers and different resilience levels. Leaders must be aware of the impact of their words and actions on their followers’ emotions and psychological fitness.

A person with low self-esteem will take the leader’s threats or reprimands as a potential loss of a job and develop depressive thoughts. I have posited that leaders are not people who do whatever they want but people who do what is required in a civilised way.

By creating an atmosphere where people’s dignity is respected in how they are engaged and where they can ask for help without being discriminated against, leaders will be setting a platform for a robust mental health support system in the workplace.

I have resisted the urge to mention any mental illness so far. The most common mental health illness that leads to suicide is depression. Depression affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and sense of wellness.

It is also circumstantial. It is either a private or official situation leading to self-condemnation and worthlessness—an extremely depressed person seeing no hope and reasons for living.

For any workplace to support a depressive person, there must be support based on the non-judgmental posture of others arising from the fact that it could happen to anyone within the team.

To achieve that level of awareness, organisational leaders should implement policies that recognise such probabilities and create infrastructures to manage the crystallisation of mental health risks. One of the infrastructures is to appoint a mental health advisor or coach to support people in a confidential and non-judgmental relationship at work.

The workplace environment must encourage reasonable adjustments like flexible working, permitted visits to specialists, and support from the leadership team by reassuring the victims and providing rehabilitating opportunities for people to live decent lives after being counselled or treated for mental illness.

As a coach and leadership practitioner, I have managed many cases of suspected mental illnesses in the workplace, as well as helped organisations set up the processes and infrastructure to enable adequate support for people with mental health fitness and challenges.

I have developed policies to manage absence and return to work, line managers’ responsibilities in suspected mental health cases, performance appraisal, and ease of release of people from organisations. What leaders need to ensure in all the processes for managing the risk of mental illness in the workplace is empathy.

Without empathy, all the infrastructure and processes to support victims will be impotent. People who pass through emotional and mental health challenges want to see the genuineness of the intentions and efforts of people around them.

Someone with a sign of mental illness can be successfully treated and rehabilitated in the workplace if they are supported and accepted without any form of discrimination.

Workplace leaders must, therefore, see the big picture and possibility rather than the common knee-jerk reactions of dismissing people with mental health challenges.

Babs Olugbemi FCCA, the Chief Vision Officer at Mentoras Leadership Limited and Founder of Positive Growth Africa. He can be reached on babs@babsolugbemi.org or 07064176953 or on Twitter @Successbabs.

By Naija247news
By Naija247newshttps://www.naija247news.com/
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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