Most health workers not tested for depression – report

The number of working days lost through mental illness each year have increased

In Summary

•Dr Frank Njenga, the presidential advisor on mental health confirmed the statistics noting that in recent times, perhaps, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has worsened.

•Joseph Onyango, IHRM council chairman said there is a need for capacity building of managers and staff members on mental health.

About 80.6 percent of the HR managers said employees lack access to mental health self-assessment tools.
DEPRESSED: About 80.6 percent of the HR managers said employees lack access to mental health self-assessment tools.
Image: COURTESY

More than 70 per cent of workers in Kenya have never been screened for depression by a qualified mental health specialist, a joint survey by the Institute of Human Resource Management and Chiromo Hospital Group indicates.

The mental health and productivity baseline survey conducted recently among human resource (HR) managers also found out that the cost for depression screening is exorbitant.

This leaves most of those seeking this service with no option but to manage it on their own.

And about 80.6 per cent of the HR managers said employees lack access to mental health self-assessment tools.

“Lack of proper policies and guidelines to address mental health; shortage of training to support others deal with their issues, and slow or lack of prompt management action to matters Mental health,” said HRs during the survey conducted between September and October 15 this year.

The HR managers who were surveyed also noted that the number of working days lost through mental illness each year increased, in the process affecting productivity and working conditions.

Data at the Ministry of Health shows that depression contributes to 10 per cent of time off work by the employed population with an average of 36 workdays lost per depression episode.

Dr Frank Njenga, the presidential advisor on mental health confirmed the statistics noting that in recent times, perhaps, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has worsened.

He said the symptoms of depression, such as difficulties in concentrating, making decisions and remembering, are present up to 94 percent of the time during an episode of depression.

“This causes significant impairment in work function and productivity,” stated Dr Njenga, one of the guest speakers during the 25th annual national HRM conference in Mombasa last week. The conference’s theme was Transition: Anchoring Resilience.

The situation, he said, has been worsened by the fact that 50 percent of the people living with depression are untreated due to stigma and lack of access to care.

Joseph Onyango, IHRM council chairman said there is a need for capacity building of managers and staff members on mental health.

“To address this issue, there is also a need to put structures and policies in place that support the well-being of employees that should be facilitated by top management goodwill, and budget allocation for mental health,” he said.

During the survey, some of the HR managers said as professionals they need to be practical when tackling mental health issues. “We also need to create awareness on how to go about the whole process of supporting affected staff, for instance referrals,” Onyango added.

HR professionals, he noted, play a pivotal role in increasing overall business resilience along with an active culture of regular communication.

During the survey, 2, 000 out of the 14, 000 HR managers were surveyed with 65 percent and 34.5 percent male and female respondents respectively participating.

“The mounting pressure has resulted in stress, depression and harmful substance use to avert the pressure. This has left many in need of treatment,” a respondent said.

As a result, the Institute signed a partnership with Chiromo Hospital Group to address mental health at places of work.

“This will go a long way in increasing mental wellbeing at places of work which will eventually increase staff engagement and sustainable productivity,” Onyango noted.

He pointed out that the whole process will be done through research and training, to equip HR professionals with a deeper understanding of mental health and mental illnesses.

It will also show how HR managers can better support employees and the leadership in creating a mentally healthy and resilient workforce.

Over 1,000 delegates ratified a workplace mental health policy statement, which Onyango said will eventually protect and promote mental wellbeing of all workers.

Mental health is an important factor in the health and safety in any workplace; however it has largely gone an unspoken issue.

“IHRM will therefore prioritise workplace wellbeing, by this we will not only improve the livelihoods of workers but also enhance productivity, creativity and engagement,” he said.

Acting director general of Health, Dr. Patrick Amoth urged employers to put more emphasis on mental health at the workplace.

He said most mental illnesses are treatable if diagnosed early, and further called on employers to develop programmes and policies that are anchored in addressing mental health at places of work.

“When managers take action to promote mental health at the workplace, employees become more productive,” said Dr. Amoth. He noted that employees should talk about depression and other mental health problems like substance abuse to have people with depression seek help.

“Addressing mental health issues in advance will save the cost of treatment and ensure productivity,” he emphasized.

The Ministry of Health is currently implementing the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 with a goal of attaining the highest standard of mental health. This includes the optimal health status and capacity of each individual in the workplace.

Mental illnesses contribute to a significant burden of disease, loss of productivity and disability.