Shining the spotlight on mental health at work

From left, Callas Foundation founder Carolyn Peters, Cape Mental Health spokeswoman Barbara Meyer and deputy executive officer of Cape Mental Health Santie Terreblanche.

Businesses need to be more supportive of mentally ill employees, says Cape Mental Health, which held a gathering last week to mark Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month.

About 150 people living with various mental illnesses gathered at the Observatory Recreation Hall, on Thursday July 20, to celebrate the awareness month. The theme this year is “Shattering Stigma: sparking conversations and shifting attitudes of mental health in the workplace”.

Cape Mental Health spokeswoman Barbara Meyer said accounts from people with psychosocial disorders reinforced the message that managers needed to be more open and flexible in their treatment of those with disabilities so that they could be more happy, healthy and productive at work.

Carolyn Peters, a gender-violence activist and founder of the Callas Foundation, encouraged those at the gathering to “show up” in their work life, family life and personal life and to not allow their disability to steal their dreams and a chance at a life and a career.

The Callas Foundation is a Bridgetown non-profit that provides support groups for women who are trying to overcome abusive relationships.

Managers should not blame and shame mentally ill employees but rather be more accommodating to their medical needs, Ms Peters said.

Cape Mental Health deputy executive officer Santie Terreblanche said Fountain House, a psychosocial rehabilitation programme that the organisation runs in Observatory and Mitchell’s Plain, supported those who needed help coping with trauma.

“There are many more people who may need the support of Fountain House but who do not know that services such as these exist for the benefit of the public,” she said.

Ms Meyer said that many of the stories told by those who had approached Cape Mental Health for help told of anxiety, depression, addiction, sexual exploitation, near-death experiences, unfair dismissals, bullying and exclusion inside the workplace. But there were also stories of resilience and work success.

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Around 150 members of Cape Mental Health’s psychosocial rehabilitation programme attended the mental health awareness event last week.