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Mental health: What you need to know about workplace burnout

Mental health as it relates to work is one of the most neglected aspects of the labour market in Nigeria. To address this, shared experiences are helpful because they help us learn from others. Individuals, Businesses need to understand this and establish preventive measures, Anthonia Obokoh writes.

After listening to a radio health talk on mental health, 29-year old Isioma realised that it coincidentally related to her experience in the workplace. “I was able to realise that I was having symptoms of workplace burnout despite the fact that I had been helping others to deal with similar challenges at my workplace” she said.

She had worked at her current workplace for three years and two months. Early in January, she lost her father who was sick for a long time. Isioma did not cry much because the family knew he was going to die. When she came back from the burial, she faced her work.

She quickly told herself that she can put every trauma she might have experienced behind by channelling all attention and determination to work.

But slowly and without notice she stopped communicating with siblings and felt everyone needed to deal with their lives since daddy was no more. She felt it was not important to go to Church and stopped associating much with people.

 Isioma ate junks, slept less and spent all her energy on improving at her work.

Despite all the attention she gave to work, her boss wore her down by constantly saying she needed to improve and complained about her performance.

“I think deep down I felt I was a failure, without emotional support, I felt I was not getting something right but could not pinpoint what it really was. I felt that the workplace wasn’t working for me,” Isioma said.

Resuming this year 2020 after the festive season she thought she will feel better with determination to improve on my performance. But after she listened to this 30 minute health talk anchored by Pamela Ajayi on classic FM on Wednesdays, she understood better. The programmed was titled “Mental Health in Workplace.”

Isioma now understands it is a case of “burnout,” because, unlike previously depressive episodes, this time she was physically unable to work. It felt like her parts had no motivation, energy, and lacked the ability to arrange ideas; she was mentally exhausted, emotionally drained.

Similarly, the threat of depression and burnout in Nigeria is mounting due to low levels of awareness by various medical workers in the country, meaning it affects all form of careers.

Medical professionals say that the rates at which doctors are complaining shows many of them are suffering from burnout or depression over the course of their careers due to – among other reasons – overwork or administrative pressures.

The problem is not unique to Nigeria. Studies in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Australia have shown that many medical professionals are at higher risk of burnout, depression and suicide, and they are also less likely to seek help.

Experts are pointing out why the rates are so high and say  awareness needs to start at the medical school and called for medical education to put more emphasis on doctors realising their limitations and recognising their humanity and fallibility

“Burnout and depression amongst health workers is a real thing. Firstly we health workers are also human and so in addition to our personal challenges; we get to share in those of others too. You have to be rock hard not to let in some of these emotions,” said Chioma Nwakanma a public health advocate and digital media strategist.

Nwakanma said that denial and a false sense of immunity is why most break down and burnout at some point.

“The work of a doctor is stressful and somehow unpredictable. You can be called at any time, and this is worse off in a nation like ours where workers are overused and underpaid. The country is struggling with shortage of staff and even lack of proper health insurance coverage for the doctors,” she said.

Burnout is now categorised as a “syndrome” that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the World Health Organization’s International Disease Classification (ICD-11)—the official compendium of diseases.

 Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

On the basis of livelihood in Nigeria, it is found that millions of people experienced more burnout, possibly due to different demands and responsibilities.

 “Navigating workplace challenges is becoming tougher among individuals, both the young and the old these days, especially in the work setting in Nigeria, with long working hours and daily traffic that challenge our mental health,” says Rotimi Coker, consultant psychologist and psychiatrists with Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), while discussing on Doctors on-Air focusing on mental health in the workplace on Classic FM 97.3.

According to Coker, mental health can be treated, but mental health at the workplace manifests with emotional exhaustion, and can affect productivity at the workplace.

Mental health at the workplace could be associated with some feelings of under achievement, Coker noted, stating that this eventually leads to burnout at the workplace.

“These days, we have to be present at work but become unproductive, because employees are suffering from stress and if they do not know how to cope with stress-related disorders they start to have issues with their mental health such as anxiety, symptoms of depression, phobia, and even suicide attempts begin to manifest,” he said.

 The signs of burnout could be manifested through emotional exhaustion—harder to bounce back from challenges, trouble sleeping, not taking much pleasure in life, lacking empathy or disconnection from others, reduced concentration span—skimming articles, flicking through channels and diminished work performance

Meanwhile, sharing experiences from other guests in the programme they said work was good for mental health but a negative work environment could lead to physical and mental health problems, stating that there were many risk factors associated with mental health that might be present in the work environment.

The guests emphasised on women especially facing burnout and said that they do 80 percent of household work and contribute 50 percent to the family upkeep and still had to go to work to contribute optimally.

However, they believe when employees are not fulfilled and are not actualising their goal, they then start having some mental feelings of not been fulfilled daily at the workplace. They say individuals that are stressed out with personal issues and work stress keep the energy but are dying of work burnout, which can lead to demotion, and is common among younger people at the workplace.

Akolade Habib from Synlab Nigeria said the main issue that fuels mental health in the workplace is lack of support system.

“Nigerians see it as a shame and there are no supports. We realise people are not comfortable to discuss these issues because they feel they are not the only person going through it, but this increases the burden,” Habib said.

Confidentiality really needs to be maintained and management acceptance will allow people to speak up, Habib said, noting that there is actually a law that prevents people from discrimination.

“Nigeria can begin not to stigmatise people, and management must invest in the workforce when the turnover is high in mental health, especially for those who have dropped in productivity,” Habib said.

However, a human resource guest at the programme harped on the need to prioritise mental health at the workplace, as it was an important issue employers needed to look at in this time and age, noting that as a country we were not really dealing with mental health issues and addressing and recognising it in the workplace the way we ought to.

 The resource personnel said there were still challenges of trust in relation to mental health matters in the workplace.

But Coker however advised that annual physical check-up should be carried out in most organisations, noting that every individual needs to understand the importance of sleep and exercise to their mental health.

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