Current statistics highlights that one in four South Africans suffer from depression and that the impact companies can be more severe than physical illnesses.

Johannesburg - Depression is one of the silent ailment disrupting corporate South Africa today, leading to increased absenteeism, conflict in the workplace and low productivity.

With October being designated Mental Health Awareness Month it is appropriate that corporate South Africa, which spends substantial amounts annually on corporate wellness days, consider taking action to also address depression," says Dr Senathi Fisha, founder of the Fishawellness psychiatric facility in Pretoria. 

Current statistics highlights that one in four South Africans suffer from depression and that the impact on companies can be more severe than physical illnesses which have to-date been the focus of corporate wellness days.

"Depression can be treated successfully and those suffering can return to normal functioning with the right assistance. The reality is that people suffering from depression are generally not aware of this disease or are in denial that they too suffer from depression. The stigma attached to depression also leads to people being unable to seek help for fear of being isolated by their colleagues or overlooked for promotions. Some even fear that that disclosing their affliction could ultimately lead to dismissal," says Dr Fisha.

"Unfortunately, if left untreated severe depression, psychotic conditions with hallucinations, and hearing sudden shocking news can lead to anxiety and the person concerned taking his or her life. It is often only when colleagues hear of a personal calamity of this type that they begin to understand that the co-worker who was often off sick, was late for work, unmotivated or constantly tired was suffering from something much deeper than just 'laziness'.

"Often, the person suffering from depression will hide their problem so well that co-workers just believe that their colleague is someone who is withdrawn and not a 'people person' rather than being someone who is quiet because they are stressed, anxious and depressed.

"People with depression find it difficult to function properly. Depression can affect anyone regardless of their gender, age, race or social class. This is one of the main reason why corporate South Africa should encourage Human Capital professionals to be more aware of the problem and use corporate health and wellness days at the office as opportunities to create general awareness about depression, its symptoms and treatment.

"By creating an open environment where mental illness is openly discussed, creating awareness about the illness and having tools for quick identification of those suffering from depression, employers can go a long way towards encouraging people to seek support and treatment for their depression-related problems. They will also build a supportive workplace for sufferers who will be better understood by their colleagues," says Dr Fisha.

She says that some of the signs of depression to look out for are: 

  • A person suddenly losing enthusiasm for their work;
  • Deadlines being missed and presented work not being as thorough as it used to be, having endless excuses, irrational decisions;
  • Increased absenteeism which is out of character for the worker concerned;
  • Changed social behaviour, withdrawal from peers, memory problems, highly suspicious of others;
  • Restlessness and/or irritability, aggression towards colleagues and superiors;
  • Arriving late for work and looking unhappy; anxious, edgy and
  • Fatigue, usually shown through complaints of tiredness after undertaking even basic tasks and constant complaints about feeling tired.

Depression can have various causes some work related such as too much pressure at work, promotions with new demands that employees are unable to meet, and some stressors maybe home related such as , family problems, relationships, financial stressors, illness etc.

"It does not follow that because a person is suffering from depression that they can no longer do their jobs. By showing an understanding of the problem and helping explore options when problems occur, a manager can ensure that an employee suffering from depression remains a productive member of the team.

"It should, however, always be borne in mind that offering support does not mean taking up the role as an informal therapist. Depression can be treated and the condition can be managed, but this is best left to professionals, as we all deserve mental wellbeing," says Dr Fisha.

About Dr Senathi Fisha:

Dr Senathi Fisha, founder of the Fishawellness psychiatric facility in Pretoria.

Dr Fisha has been involved in healthcare for most of her life. She began her career in the sector as a highly-qualified nurse before becoming interested in the problems facing mental health patients and the lack of suitable private facilities for mental wellness in South Africa.

This led to her founding the Fisha Investment Group some 23 years ago and the beginnings of facilities that include the Fishawellness psychiatric facility in Pretoria.

Her company also has investments in the medico-legal sector and affordable primary healthcare clinics.

Besides holding a B Cur nursing degree, Dr Fisha holds a BSc (Honours) degree in Psychology; a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology.