Depression

Updated 16 October 2017

30% of people with this disorder have kept it a secret

Although nearly 10% of the South African population suffer from depression, there is still a lot of prejudice against mental illness in the workplace.

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Depression costs South Africa more than R232 billion (or 5.7% of our GDP), according to the IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science 2016. 

This figure is mainly the result of lost productivity caused by absence from work or reduced productivity during a depressive period. 

“With more than 9.7% of the South African population (or 4.5 million to be exact) suffering from depression, chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office is at some stage in their lives of coping with the condition,” says Dr Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group. 

“It’s not only the duty of the individuals suffering from mental health issues but also organisations and colleagues to fight the stigma associated.”

Updated stats needed

Research released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) two years ago showed that one in four South African employees had been diagnosed with depression. 

SADAG recently conducted a new survey to investigate stigma in the workplace with regards to depression. 

Although 61% of respondents had disclosed their mental illness to their manager, 69% said they had experienced a negative or no response when they discussed it with them. 

One participant said, “It felt uncomfortable when sharing my mental health issues with management.”

Unfortunately 44% of the respondents felt uncomfortable disclosing their mental health issue to their manager. 

Negativity around mental illness still exists

“If depression is continuously seen as a weakness and something that people make up to receive special treatment or paid days off work, or those suffering fear for their jobs, then neither the stigma associated with neither depression nor the lack in productivity and loss in revenue will change,” says Dr Seape.

According to SADAG, 29% of respondents said they had not told anyone about their mental illness; only 16% actually felt comfortable enough to disclose their condition to their manager or supervisor. 

“This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to examine how depression is managed in the workplace and what procedures are in place to ensure that affected employees are encouraged to and supported in seeking treatment,” says SADAG operations director, Cassey Chambers. 

In the survey, 86% of employees indicated that having a mental illness made their work life more difficult.

“The results of this study emphasise that more education and training is needed for managers, who may want to help, but don’t feel well enough trained or equipped to do so,” says Zane Wilson SADAG founder.

A large percentage – 56% of respondents – said they had taken time off work over the past 12 months due to their mental illness. This directly affects a company’s overall productivity and costs. 

Depression is real

Statistics can sometimes be cold and clinical. Over the years, Health24 has spoken to many people who have battled depression and here are some striking responses:

"Depression is a tough thing to live with. You lose people in your life and you lose yourself in the process. It would help a little if the world understood mental illness. Even my family don’t get it − they try to but they don’t understand what I'm dealing with every day.” – Tumi Simphiwe

"I have ruined countless friendships. I have lost jobs. I have been thin. I have been fat. The sad thing is: nobody saw. Nobody realised. I was surrounded by people, yet I was alone. Every day is a challenge and learning the skills to become our best selves takes time. Please be patient with us. We are not broken. We are just a little fragile." – Anne Clark 

“People are scared of things they don’t understand. Add the word "mental" to illness and it becomes something they don’t want to talk about. Most illnesses are diagnosed with a test, but depression isn’t one of them. Depression is not a sign of weakness; it’s an often debilitating illness that needs to be treated.” – Mandy Freeman 

 

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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