Experts w*rn of impending workers mental catastrophe

Saturday, January 8th, 2022 02:00 | By
Dr. Frank Njenga (left) Presidential Adviser on Mental Health with the Institute of Human Resource Management Chairman Joseph Onyango at a Nairobi Hotel. Photo/PD/GERALD ITHANA

Medical  experts are warning of a major mental  catastrophe in the country if the government and employers do not urgently address the psychological effects that resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The experts say although 70 per cent of Kenyan workers were affected by the pandemic, employers have not constituted measures to address the resultant effects such as depression and stress they warn would continue building up.

Results of a survey done jointly by the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM) and Chiromo Mental Health hospital in November indicates this would in the near future  affect staff production.

The survey shows over 70 per cent of workers in various segments of the country’s labour force in public and private workplaces have never been screened for depression by a qualified mental health specialist despite having been affected by the pandemic.

Through HR practitioners, the employers are now increasingly becoming concerned about the number of workers whose mental health status is breaking down.

Joseph Onyango, the IHRM Council national chairman noted the condition is due to the pressures emanating from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This has however, prompted the institute to partner with Chiromo Mental Health Hospital with an aim of developing a comprehensive policy to address this issue,” he said.

Currently, the policy he said is at public participation stage.

Baseline survey

The mental health and productivity baseline survey conducted recently among human resource managers also found the cost for depression screening exorbitant.

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

In the survey, about 80.6 percent 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 last year.

Onyango 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 recently when the Institute awarded the best HR director of the year 2021.

He expressed hopes there will be a working document as soon as possible, so that workers and their employers can start to talk about mental health issues in their work places more openly as a way of finding therapy.

He also called on organisations to mainstream their HR activities with technology which without, companies cannot achieve the optimum in their economic output.

Data at the Ministry of Health shows that depression contributes to 10 percent 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.

The HR practitioners also decried the underfunding of the HR function despite its critical role in the economy.

Human resource contribution

They called on the government to recognise the HR contribution to the growth of the country and allocate more resources to it.

Eliud Owalo, an HR consultant noted that the HR function is integral in the growth of the economy, and therefore a need to have a keen interest in addressing challenges facing it.

Owalo noted that the need to get HR to play its fundamental role, and also to get recognised at the level commensurate with its contributing component within the economy, is urgent.

“Some organisations operate without a strategic plan, so it makes work very difficult from the HR point of view to determine the staffing component,” he said observing that too much political meddling in the HR function, especially in the public sector, impacts negatively on the HR function.

He called on the government to put more money into skills and capacity building of staff within the public sector.

Wasike Fred, HR director at Isuzu East Africa company was awarded the HR Director of the year 2021.

He said at the company, the HR department is the driver of its performance seeing it scooping top position in the country for the last 9 years.

The company has embraced the HR department for its performance.

On his part, Sylvester Kasuku, Nairobi Governor’s legal adviser said the area of HR is key for growth and development of any country. 

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