Mental health remains one of the most misunderstood illnesses across the continent and there is still a lot of stigma attached to it. Stereotypes of what mental illness looks are abound. As a result of the stigma and lack of knowledge many people suffer in silence or are victims of abuse from family and communities due to the stigma attached to mental illness.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world but there are many other forms of the problem, which includes: anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating problems, hypomania and mania, personality disorders amongst others.

The 2017 theme for this day is mental health in the workplace. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people suffer from depression and more than 260 million people are living with anxiety disorders. These two conditions are common disorders that have an impact on the ability of an individual to work.

Read: ‘Chained like prisoners’: Plight of Somaliland mental health patients

In line with this year’s theme, WHO states that work is good for individual’s mental health. However, working in a negative environment can lead to mental and physical health problems.  Some of the factors that contribute to poor mental health in the work environment include lack of or inadequate health and safety policies, lack of support for employees, no participation in decision making, poor matching between employee’s skills and tasks as well as poor communication practice within the work environment.

While the work environment contributes to mental health risks, there are myths that need to be debugged in connection to mental health in the workplace. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety group, one of the main myths is that people with mental health need cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job. However, it has been proven that such people are as productive as other employees, with good attendance and punctuality as well as good work.

Depression: Let’s talk. The poster depicts a conversation between a mother and daughter Photo credit: WHO/Developed for use in campaign activities and beyond

It is also believed that having conversations about mental health in the workplace could lead to the death of a career.  This usually limits people from having discussions on mental health for fear of stigma.  The WHO recommends that organisations address mental health problems and create an environment where the staff can access support and information about mental health.

Read: World Health Day: Three myths about depression we should debunk

Recommendations to improve mental health in the workplace include the creation of policies and practices, adapting the workplace to promote good health care for staff and including the staff in the development of the policies on mental health.

In Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, WHO calls on member countries to provide a comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings, and to implement the strategies for the promotion and prevention in mental health.  The objectives for this is to ensure that member countries have functioning national mental health promotion and prevention programme and see the reduction of suicide rates by 10% by the year 2020.

The abuse of mental health patients is a growing problem. In 2015, the HRW released a report documenting the abuse of patients in Ghana and advised the country’s “newly formed Mental Health Authority [to] closely monitor all mental health facilities to end the widespread mistreatment of people with mental disabilities”.

While we commend the significant efforts made by various African countries to increase attention and awareness of mental health, we also note that more needs to be done to provide quality mental healthcare, raise awareness and combat the stigma associated with mental health problems. There is also need to increase financial investment in mental healthcare programmes.