The Malta Independent 22 March 2018, Thursday

INDEPTH: Does your workplace have a mental health policy?

INDEPTH online Friday, 23 February 2018, 08:20 Last update: about 20 days ago


With proper education, having a mental health policy at the workplace could help workers identify any red flags in their colleagues’ behaviour, and obtain assistance for them before a situation spirals out of control.

CEO of the Richmond Foundation Stephania Dimech Sant, who was this week’s guest on INDEPTH, described how work and school are the places where people spend a significant portion of their time, and having people educated in what constitutes as mental health red flags could help a person get help before it is too late.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent’s editor-in-chief Rachel Attard, Dimech Sant described how the Richmond Foundation works with companies: “Develop a mental health policy, spread knowledge on the issue among employees and provide psychological assistance to employees, paid for by the employer, with complete anonymity.”

The Richmond Foundation focuses on mental health awareness and treatment.

Due to several events that have taken place over the past few weeks, discussions about mental health have increased, which is positive as it could help remove the stigma of speaking about such issues.

In recent weeks, a teenager escaped from Mount Carmel Hospital and eventually committed suicide. A series of media stories showing the derelict state the psychiatric facility has been allowed to fall into and complaints by hospital workers of being heavily over-burdened have renewed the political will to address the situation.

Dimech Sant explained that a company would not know their employee is receiving psychological care, but the company would still pay for it. Payment is effected through a contract entered into with the Foundation, which provides the holistic service of informing, training and offering services to those in need.

She questioned why mental health awareness has not been prioritised considering that “one in four will face a mental health crisis at some point in their lives”.

“It is curious that people do not speak up more about the issue considering that a four-person family will deal with mental health issues at one point in their lives.”

Asked about whether there is a better understanding on how mental health issues develop, Dimech Sant said that it is a combination of factors, such as genetic disposition and the impact of prolonged stress.

“Today we live a fast life and are expected to keep up with so much. We do not take the time needed to care for our mental health, like resting and engaging in fun activities. Stress can lead to a psychological breaking point.”

She added that this is the part where information plays such an important role, because “early intervention is the key to better treatment, care and healing”.

Turning to any risk factors associated with age, Dimech Sant said that mental health issues can affect anybody at any age; however, there are more sensitive periods.

“Between the ages of 15 and 24 is the time when the first symptoms of serious mental illness emerge. The elderly have their own situations that lead to mental sickness, such as isolation.”


Xarabank helping to raise awareness

Commenting publicly on social media, the Richmond Foundation said it was surprised at the number of people phoning in after seeing a Xarabank programme on mental health.

Mental health issues suffer from heavy stigmatisation, and not many people are comfortable admitting that they have a problem. Following the public debate on mental health due to the circumstances described above, Xarabank dedicated a programme to mental illness and many people suffering from such issues came forward to speak publically.

Sometime after the show, the Richmond Foundation said it had not expected so many people to reach out for help, and assured callers they will be contacted:

“We are writing this post to let you know that we are doing our best to get back to all of you who called us during Xarabank and the weekend that followed. We received hundreds of phone calls and we are currently in the process of calling you back to address your difficulties and provide the time and attention you deserve. We apologize if we haven’t contacted you yet but we weren’t expecting such a response. Thank you for trusting us and we are very grateful for your patience.”


In comments to this newsroom about the response, Dimech Sant said that reducing the stigma and having people break the taboo about their own mental health, has galvanised others to seek help. 


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