In recent years, mental health has become increasingly important as living through a pandemic has brought about new anxieties for everyone. People tend to crop up their issues due to outdated psychiatric practices and tenacious stigma surrounding psychological issues, unintentionally worsening their situation.
Mental health issues are a major psychosocial risk at the workplace. Besides the suffering of employees, it can also lead to performance and productivity issues. Both employers and employees tend to avoid talking about stress, anxiety and depression openly, as these things are associated with weakness and failure.
Last month, Lovin Malta opened a survey for readers to share their experiences with mental health. Hundreds of people replied, addressing their struggles in the workplace as well as personal relations, trauma and predisposed conditions.
More than twenty percent of respondents said that their mental health issues were caused by work. The following experiences are a selection from over a hundred similar stories.
This article about mental health at work is part of a multi-article series shedding light on mental well-being issues in Malta, from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and psychological abuse.
“As a healthcare professional, my colleagues didn’t care about my own mental health”
A young Maltese healthcare professional first dealt with psychological issues after she had failed an exam and faced bullying at work. “I was left with suicidal thoughts, death wishes and thoughts of self-harm.” Her weight also started fluctuating drastically.
What struck her the most was that her colleagues – fellow healthcare professionals – saw what was happening, yet told her to “just get on with it” and “move forward”, with no tangible help offered regarding the bullying.
The colleagues merely cared about getting their job done and ignored their colleague’s deteriorating state. “As a healthcare professional working in a hospital this sounds hypocritical, but that is how it was.”
She found support when reaching out to friends and family. Although they were at a loss of knowledge on how to help her, they tried their best to get her out of it.
She saw a psychotherapist but didn’t reveal her suicidal thoughts, so she was discharged after the first appointment.
After two years of struggling, she fortunately recovered and is back on track.
“Colleagues warned that speaking about burn-out would be considered a personal weakness”
A man in his sixties responded that his last burn-out occurred around five years ago. He was a country director for an international foundation, and suffered from stress due to overwork in a hostile work environment.
However, when he wanted to approach his director at the headquarters, he was warned by his fellow directors that mental health issues would be considered a personal weakness, and that he would risk losing his position.
In the end, he couldn’t get any professional assistance. “I took one month’s sick leave for an unspecified condition, after which I decided to not renew my contract and focus on recovering.”
“Four and a half years after losing my job, I still have days where I cannot get out of bed”
This man in his thirties had never suffered from mental health issues before, until one day his manager approached him. The manager had spoken to him a handful of times in his five and a half months of working. Two weeks before his probation, his manager told him he was not extending him.
In the following months, he suffered anxiety and depression. Four and a half years later, he still has days where he wakes up and cannot get out of bed. “I just need to sleep longer to not face the day.”
To make matters worse, he said that he entirely isolated himself from friends and family. “It completely destroyed my life… I was a happy, smiling and funny person before this happened.”
He felt that it was better to deal with it alone, fearing that others might not always understand. “I don’t have a wide circle of family and friends… So I tend to keep quiet about the problems I face in order not to bother the few people I have.”
Eventually, he managed to open up to close family members. They were concerned and supportive and helped him with walks and long phone conversations. Professionals then also helped him to put things into perspective.
“Just thinking about going to work was enough to cause a panic attack”
A Maltese woman in her early twenties related that she was having a rough time at work, feeling super pressured and unappreciated.
The stress became too much, and on a Sunday evening, she suddenly had a panic attack at the idea of having to go to work the next day. “I was sobbing uncontrollably. I started pulling my hair from its roots and hyperventilating.”
Whenever she would think about it again, it would trigger more sobbing and anxiety.
At times she felt like she was making too much of a fuss and that she should “just deal with it like everyone else”. Her dad was sceptical of her reactions, “as he doesn’t understand much of emotions”, but he came around eventually.
She found support and kindness in her fiancé and mum. Upon visiting a doctor, she was told that she takes work too personally and she was given light antidepressants.
“Eventually I learnt to allow myself to feel what I needed to feel and that my feelings are valid and real.”
In a society where productivity and efficiency are valued over self-care and support, it is all the more important to check in with yourself regularly.
Just like these people, there are many others who struggle with mental health in their workplace but are discouraged or afraid of speaking up about it. But in the long run, unaddressed mental health issues cause more harm, as things tend to worsen when cropped up.
To prevent mental health issues from taking over your life, it is important that they are treated appropriately and in a timely manner. Keep in mind that no one profits from your struggles and that the situation might deteriorate beyond your control.
Mental health has never been more important. If you are struggling to cope for any reason at all, make sure to reach out to someone you trust. No one should fight these battles alone.
Malta’s Equality Act protects employees from discrimination in the workplace. That means you cannot be discriminated against because of mental health issues. Remember your rights and reach out before it’s too late.
Do you have a mental health story to share? Send it to [email protected].