Mental health experts have revealed the reasons why mental disorders are on the rise among Nigerian workers. While anybody can be at risk of mental disorders, peculiarities in the Nigerian workplace may be increasing the risk of mental health problems.
According to the experts, unhealthy environment, poor working policies and bullying are driving up the risks of mental disorders among Nigerian employees.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Olayinka Atilola said the high unemployment rate in Nigeria has made employers of labour create an unhealthy working environment for employees. The expert said:
“If many people are applying for a particular work, employers will not likely pay attention to the quality of the work environment.
“Also, a lot of Nigerians are employed in what we call precarious employment and many employees work overtime and beyond the standard regulation time.”
Atilola, who is also a mental health expert in the workplace noted that lack of mental health policy and bullying contribute to the increased risk of mental health disorders among Nigeria workers. He added:
“Most workplaces in Nigeria do not have an employee mental health policy that guides operations. So, the only thing they are concerned about is physical health and many hospitals may not have services for mental health conditions.
“Also, bullying or demands for sexual favours contribute to the increased risks of mental health disorders. These usually happen in an environment where the regulatory framework for employment is not sound.
“We know for a fact that mental health problems are becoming more common among Nigerians. The prevalent rate of common mental health problems has increased and it can be said that the risk of mental health problems in the workplace too would have increased.”
The study showed that 79 per cent of the employees surveyed were at an increased risk for mental health issues with no difference between either gender.
The study surveyed over 6,800 employees, between the ages of 20 and 60, from across Nigeria, on a wide variety of mental health issues.
The study, titled, “The 2019 Nigeria Workplace Mental Health Survey”, noted that four in five of employees in Nigeria are at an increased risk of developing mental health issues.
It further indicated that one in 12 employees are at risk of developing depression; four in 10 employees lack adequate emotional and social support; one in three at risk of inability to cope with stress; and one in three employees at risk from workplace stress. The study revealed:
“More than half of all the employees reported not getting enough sleep to function properly at work, with women slightly more than men in not getting enough sleep.
“More than a fifth of the employees are at an increased risk of suffering from financial worries as they had borrowed twice or more over six months before taking the survey.
“Only one per cent of all employees reported using recreational drugs, such as cannabis and ecstasy.”
“These figures call for concern and if it is not addressed immediately and adequately, it could worsen the situation,” the Chief Executive Officer of WellNewMe, Dr. Obi Igbokwe told PUNCH.
“It affects people’s productivity at work because they cannot work effectively as they should.”
Igbokwe said his team embarked on the study to emphasise the need for government and private institutions to pay attention to the mental well-being of their employees.
“As physicians, we are aware of the inadequacies of the provision of mental health services in Nigeria; so we have to highlight the need for the government and the private institutions to pay attention to that type of healthcare,” Igbokwe said.
Also speaking is the Medical Director and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services in Lagos, Dr. Maymunah Kadiri said that COVID-19 has contributed to increased risks of mental health problems among Nigerian workers. She said:
“The lockdown has worsened the situation and people may not be able to express themselves. The reality is that people are losing their jobs and we do not know when the pandemic will end.”
Kadiri urged individuals experiencing mental health disorders to seek medical help.
“You are not of a weak character or a bad person if you seek help. If you can seek for help when you are hypertensive or you have a fracture, then there is nothing wrong in seeking help when you are not mentally stable.”
On how the government can help address the challenges, Dr. Atilola urged the government to regulate the conditions of employment. Atilola added:
“Employers must be mindful of the fact that if their employees are not mentally healthy, chances are that they will not be as productive as they should be.
So, workplaces need to invest in the mental health of their staff through the employee-assistance programme, where employees who have mental health difficulties can reach out to a mental health professional, independent of the workplace or the work manager.
Other things include deliberately putting in place policies that will promote mental health. There must be a system that people with mental health problems are supported to be able to give their best within the limit of their capacity.
We recommend that whenever employers are taking up health insurance, they should ensure they are picking the one that has mental health component.”
A recent World Health Organisation -led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
“Unemployment is a well-recognised risk factor for mental health problems, while a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
“Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains,” WHO noted.