Mental health and wellbeing at work are a growing concern for employers and employees worldwide, according to mental health experts. The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation. They say individuals and communities who have previously never given a second thought to their mental health and wellbeing are suddenly confronted with considerable degrees of stress, uncertainty, fear, worry, and concern. A survey conducted by Mental Health Hub this year found that 77 per cent of the respondents who are workers in different sectors have moderate to extreme stress every day, while 34 per cent of them said that they have high extreme stress. The survey was carried out on 214 full-time workers across Rwanda to assess and better understand their attitudes and experiences related to workplace mental health and wellbeing. The hub is a global network of mental health organisations that help people achieve mental and emotional wellbeing, and strives to bridge the gaps in access and quality of mental health services worldwide with presence in Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa. Yvone Uwamahoro, a mental health professional at Mental Health Hub, explains that such stress can trigger mental health disorders. “We carried out a survey at the workplace to assess the status of mental health and wellbeing at work and found that 77 per cent of the respondents who are workers in different sectors have moderate to extreme stress every day. The causes of this include Covid-19 disruption, personal and family issues, financial issues, and job security issues among others. If not addressed they can affect productivity at work,” she says, considering that 34 per cent of respondents, have high extreme stress which can trigger mental health disorders. “In normal life everyone gets stressed. But there is negative and positive stress. Positive stress can be easily overcome. That is why high extreme stress or negative stress can trigger mental disorders. 43 per cent of respondents said the stress was caused by Covid-19. 37 per cent cited financial issues or poverty while 29 per cent cited fear of losing jobs as 28 per cent cited personal and family issues,” she says. She says mental disorders caused by stress trigger other diseases, especially non-communicable diseases. “Workers with mental disorders can lack concentration at work, thinking and sleepiness. Mental health disorders change metabolism which can result in diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, recurrent stomach ache, headache and backache among many other ailments, because failing to manage stress and mental disorders decreases body immunity,” she says. What should be done? The study concluded that the consequences of Covid-19 and related economic hardship and social disruptions on the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce are devastating. As a result, it says absenteeism rates are high and, therefore, productivity and performance levels have decreased. As Covid-19 has severely impacted the way we work, human resource leaders have an opportunity to rethink their approach to mental health and wellbeing at the workplace, Uwamahoro says, adding that there is a need for creating awareness in the management team and then employees. “After creating awareness, we work out how employers can help employees, how to manage stress that is a source of mental health disorders and other diseases,” she says. Wellness classes, she notes, are techniques in treating and counselling people at work found with mental disorders. “We realised that only 5.4 per cent with mental disorders go to hospital for consultation and treatment. Yet we have many people with mental disorders. Statistics show that 12 per cent of the population suffer from depression. Others have anxiety, trauma and others. We should pave the way for breaking the silence because many fear stigma, so that workers are able to be productive and live a work-life balance,” she says. She urges employers to know the status of their employees and observe their unusual behaviour at work. “We help institutions to carry out a wellbeing audit to know the status of employees and what they need in terms of mental health and wellbeing at work. “Employees need to be exposed to the realities of mental health issues that can impact their ability to be focused and productive, including stress, drug use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mood disorders. We do screening and even counselling for those who may be found with such issues,” she says. The hub, she says, regularly assesses employees’ mental health and wellbeing, and provide monthly workshops and bi-weekly wellness classes. “It is essential that these employees have easy access to fully confidential and user-friendly treatment. We provide effective evidence-based coaching, counselling, and therapy. “In order to sustain the impact of an effective employee wellbeing programme, it is highly desirable to ensure that the workplace culture increasingly enhances health and wellbeing,” Uwamahoro says. The survey found that only about a third of respondents currently receive some form of emotional and mental health support services from their employers which is 36.9 per cent on average. A staggering 88.8 per cent of respondents say that they wish their employer did more to support employee emotional and mental health. “There is a need for transforming mental health and wellbeing at the workplace and ensuring employees learn how to become more resilient and productive,” she says. At least 12 workdays are lost every year by a worker suffering from depression, according to studies. There is $2-4 return-on-investment for every dollar spent on evidence-based prevention of mental illnesses and early intervention.