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October 15, 2017 Estelle Ellis

Depression costs South Africa a massive R232-billion a year due to lost productivity, a study has found.

This equates to 5.7% of the country’s gross domestic product, the latest study from the London School of Economic and Political Science has found.

Loss of productivity is caused by absence from work or attending work while unwell.
Chairwoman of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG), Dr Sebolelo Seape, said organisations and individuals should be aware of the impact mental health had on the workplace.

She said: “With more than 9.7% of the South African population suffering from depression, chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office is, at some stage, coping with the condition.

“Depression causes problems with memory, procrastination, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear and panic, which will add to work-related stresses, crippling output from the employee,” Seape said.

She added that the cost of “presenteeism” – those at work while suffering from depression – had the most significant impact, equating to a loss of 4.23% of the country’s GDP.

“In South Africa, employees are likely to keep working during periods of depression.

“This can be due to fear of losing jobs, being discriminated against or lack of mental health knowledge.

“Even those who take a sick day here and there because they are not mentally up for it, are in essence self-diagnosing and their perceived coping mechanism will draw negative attention.

Seape said taking a day off and sitting at home would not help with depression either.

“You need to work with your medical doctor and psychiatrist to determine the best treatment and how to manage time off, special needs at work or flexible working hours.”

She said the depression sufferer should not be the only one held accountable.

“The onus is on both the employee for seeking help . . . and equally on the employer.

“Organisations have a legal responsibility to the welfare of their staff.”

Seape said workplace attitudes which promoted acceptance and openness would have a significant impact on improving workplace productivity.

A new survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) found that 61% of employees with depression had disclosed their mental illness to managers, but 69% of those experienced negative responses or no response at all. Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers said it was vital to examine how mental health was managed in the workplace.

The Sadag survey on stigma in the workplace, completed this year, found that 86% of respondents said the condition was making work considerably more difficult.

“The results of this study emphasise that more education and training is needed for managers,” Sadag founder Zane Wilson said.

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