Mental Illness in the Workplace
The last couple of months have been rougher than ever. I’ve been dealing with anxiety attacks for a long time but, for three years now, I’ve been doing fine, handling them with some breathing techniques I find online and an exercise where I name three things I can see, two things I can smell and one thing I can taste. I felt in control of my reality. Reading and writing made it easier, too. It was all about having control of something of my own.
But, after a disastrous breakup, family and school problems, the panic attacks were back and harder than ever. Finally, they caused me to lose my job.
I finally got a position where I could use my English and I was more than happy. From the first day, my mental illness went off. I was stressed and anxious that I would lose my mind and control over my emotions because of a stupid reason, such as me being sick. Spoiler alert: mental illness isn’t stupid. One week through the job, I was happy because I had survived; I gave myself a pat on the back because I kept the attacks at bay. But starting the second week, things went downhill. I found myself in the bathroom crying, thinking I was worthless and bruising my hands against the door handles. It was an ugly sight. Thinking about it now seems ridiculous. Why was I thinking like this? It was something I couldn’t control.
I left the job after a long bathroom break raised suspicions from my boss who was sitting a few feet from me. She called me to talk since my makeup was smudged and my hands were shaking. I felt embarrassed. The minute I stepped in to talk with her, she started screaming because I wasn’t doing my job correctly. She shouted: “You need to keep aside your personal life from your professional life, if you want to succeed in this, don’t mix the two things.” I couldn’t defend myself, what else was I supposed to say? I walked out and by the lunch break, I gathered my things and never went back.
You may ask yourself why I am telling you this. Well, my experience is one among a million of others who are also suffering and can’t express themselves. Mental illness in the workplace is not handled well. If you are having a breakdown or feeling tired for no reason, you are viewed as an unprofessional and a threat to your own career, especially in a rising country, like Morocco.
One out of every two Moroccans, or an astonishing 50% of the population, has mental or psychological disorders according to an alarming report by the Ministry of Health on the rate of people with psychiatric disorders in Morocco. The country suffers from a critical shortage of psychiatrists and mental health workers in the public sector. In total, there are only 197 psychiatrists in the country, representing an average of 0.63 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with the world average of 3.66 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants.
These alarming numbers don’t seem to gather the appropriate attention needed. We still treat people with mental illnesses as abominations, starting with myself. I’ve never been to a professional to treat the depression I have had since I was a little girl. I’ve never had any help dealing with my self-harming and addiction to bruising myself. I didn’t even know what I had until I was old enough to look it up on the internet. I was privileged enough to access essays and texts in English to understand my issues. There’s a lack of mental illness essays and literature in Arabic online, even here in Morocco where Arabic is the native language. On the other hand, there is some work in French, it being the second language that most Moroccans can understand, but it’s not enough. According to the OIF (Organisation internationale de la Francophonie also called the International Organization of La Francophonie), 33% of Moroccans can speak French, among them 13.5% are fully francophone (native speakers) and 19.5% are partially francophone. But what about the 67% who can’t access texts in French? Even worse, what about those who aren’t even aware of their issues?
Back to my most recent job, while I was there I noticed there wasn’t anyone who could help with either mental or physical health. When I asked, I was told that the professional comes two days a week. It just wasn’t enough.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), mental illness is a growing problem in modern society and is increasingly affecting productivity and well-being in the workplace. Three in four workers with a mental disorder report reduced productivity at work, compared to one in four workers without a mental disorder, despite the changes imposed by the organization to reduce the numbers such as systematic monitoring of sick leave behaviour, reducing workplace conflicts and avoiding unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems. The point is if the employee is happy, they can give more. Happy workers make good workers.
Unfortunately, these approaches only focus on people with severe disorders, such as schizophrenia, who make up only one-fourth of sufferers. Not that these disorders are less important, but we need to service those with common disorders so that more people are able to stay in or return to work. If I had had someone to talk to that day, maybe even my boss, I wouldn’t have walked out of work as such a mess.
Today, almost 50% of individuals with a severe mental disorder and over 70% of those with a moderate mental disorder do not receive any treatment for their illness. The constant stress can be unbearable for individuals with anxiety and depression, particularly when they are forced into a stressful work environment. It is up to employers to focus more on mental illness and preparing a safe atmosphere for workers.