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Depression in the work place

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One in four South African employees are diagnosed with depression annually. There are ways you can seek help while your identity is protected by law.


You find your life spiralling out of control. There is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and the things that used to interest you do not anymore. If this is what you are going through, you are not alone.

In South Africa, 4.5 million people suffer from depression, costing the country $16.6 billion of its Gross Domestic Product due to lost productivity, either due to absence from work or not attending work citing sickness.

These are figures by the IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2016.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), depression is among the prevalent mental disorders in South Africa, resulting in one-in-four South African employees diagnosed with depression annually.

Meet Mfuneko Mthi, a prison warden from Kokstad, a little town nestled between South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces. Today, he sounds upbeat and has a positive outlook on life but this was not the case two years ago.

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He suffered from depression. It all started when he and his childhood friend were shot at by a gang leader in their community.

Mthi escaped death but the trauma manifested as depression.

The two years took a toll on his personal and professional life.  

As a prison warden, he had to work closely with prisoners and at times, their correctional services uniforms would bring back painful flashbacks of his offender.

From then, it progressed to the perpetual submission of medical certificates, one after the other, as he desperately tried all means to run away from his inner demons. 

“I started reporting sick from work on a regular basis, even though I was not sick. I could not face the correctional services uniform after I had seen my offender, during the victim-offender dialogue (VOD),” Mthi says. 

“The VOD is a voluntary process, where the offender and victim are able to talk about the effects of the crime. Through the VOD program, victims of crimes… engage with offenders and communities so that relationships can be restored and forgiveness sought,” states a report by the Department of Correctional Services.

During the times that Mthi was present at work, leaving early also became a regular practice and isolation was his best-kept secret to maintain sanity, he says.

I would leave early to go to my place and consume alcohol. I used up all my leave and sick days at work just to avoid being around people.

Mthi needed to go back to the root of the problem in order to get the help he needed.

He details how he and his friend were attacked by the same perpetrator on two separate occasions.

“When I was in my teens, a gang leader who was feared in our community, used to recruit the youth to commit crimes. When my friend and I refused, he assaulted us. It is then that our parents opened a case of common assault with the police,” Mthi says.

The unexpected happened.

“On the day we got back from his bail hearing, he shot my friend and I, saying that nobody presses criminal charges against him.” 

Mthi suffered multiple gun-shot wounds but his friend did not survive the onslaught.

 As the wounds healed, the internal scars continued to bleed; life’s problems rubbed salt into Mthi’s wounds.

“A friend of mine committed suicide in 2017 and till this day, we do not know what led to him doing that.

“But he did make us aware that he was experiencing a series of problems, and his job as a prison warden was taking a toll on him due to the number of traumatizing things that happen in prison,” Mthi says.

 He would drown his sorrows in alcohol when the waves of depression were unrelenting.

“I would drink a lot to help me sleep most of the time. Even though I would go out sometimes, I got to a point where I was overdoing it and that led to me being broke and that created a cycle which would lead to more depression.” 

Mthi realized he had a problem and he took the first step towards healing.

He called SADAG, an organization in South Africa at the forefront of patient advocacy and educating society on mental illness.

 “They told me that I had depression symptoms and advised that I go see a nearby clinical psychiatrist,” Mthi says.

According to Charity Mkone, a clinical psychologist, the societal stigma associated with depression makes it difficult for it to be warranted an illness. 

“It is something that is not seen as a real illness…people think that it is something that you can control and that you choose whether to be depressed or not. They also think that because of certain circumstances – such as being a prominent figure – you do not have a right to be depressed,” she says. 

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However, that is not true. Most people, according to Mkone, have had some form of depression in their life, where they present SIGMECAPS symptoms (as defined in the box-out).

 “To some degree, we have all expressed these feelings at a point in our lives. But it is usually a phase. But for someone struggling with depression; that becomes a dominant way of feeling, as opposed to someone who is feeling like that because of the circumstances, and once the problem has disappeared, they are fine. A depressed person would still feel depressed,” she says.

 According to SADAG, rural-based studies have found a prevalent rate of 18% depressive symptomatology and 27% rate of depression, as opposed to the urban settings where as much as 25.2% of the population is depressed and in peri-urban settlements where 34.7% of the people have postpartum depression.

 There are 23 known suicides in South Africa per day, making it approximately 8,000 suicides each year. Based on research from SADAG, for every person who commits suicide, 10 have attempted it.

In South Africa, even though women are two times more likely to suffer from depression, men are more prone to committing suicide. This is often because men in South Africa battle to come forward with mental health problems due to the stigma attached to mental health.

“It has a lot more to do with the stigma and that men don’t actually come out to say that they are depressed. It makes them feel that they are weak people because one of the symptoms of depression is deep overwhelming sadness,” Mkone says.

Men are five times more likely to be successful at suicide then women


Charity Mkone

Suicidal thoughts normally manifest when depression goes untreated for a long time.

Mkone says that when men commit suicide, they are found to do it in a more lethal manner.

  One of the first steps that could be used within communities in order to assist people suffering from depression is to be more aware of the symptoms.

The more measures are taken to educate people in the workplace and in communities concerning depression, Mkone believes this would alleviate the number of suicidal deaths because persons suffering from depression would get the help they need at an early stage.

 It is, however, important to note that depression may be caused by a number of problems such as external factors, genetic inheritance, an imbalance of brain chemicals, certain medical conditions, substance abuse as well as other various medical conditions.

This is why mental illness is a treatable condition and, as a result, 80% to 90% of people have had a good response to medical care.

Depression in the work place

Depression in the work place is becoming more visible.

“According to the medical ethical code of conduct that all clinical psychologists sign and are bound to, the sessions that you have with the client are strictly confidential unless the client gives you written consent to divulge information about their sessions,” says Mkone.

“In terms of a patient requiring a written letter for work, we can provide a medical certificate,” she says.

One in six employees are willing to disclose their mental illness, according to a 2017 survey by SADAG.

Nadine Mather, who is a senior associate at law firm, Bowmans, says: “An employee is not obliged to disclose to their employer that they suffer from depression or any other mental condition. An employee may, however, voluntarily choose to do so.”

  She added that should there be a case where the employer is aware that the employee suffers from depression and it affects their performance at work, then they may address the matter following the correct procedures, and it would be illegal if they dismiss the employee without that.

Depression is regarded as a sub-category of “incapacity” and is recognized as a fair reason to terminate an employee’s employment under the South African law should they no longer be fit to perform their duties.

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“In this regard, our law places an obligation on employers to investigate the cause, degree and effect of the employee’s depression or mental condition thoroughly, in order to ascertain the impact that it might have on the employee’s work,” says Mather.

If the employer can prove without reasonable doubt that the business or company cannot function without the duties of the employee within a certain time period, then that could result in the termination of their duties.

“Only when an employer has followed a fair process and can show that there is no prospect of an employee recovering sufficiently to justify their continued employment, or improving within a time period during which an employer could cope without suffering significant loss as a result of an employee’s absence, would termination of the employee’s employment for depression or a mental condition become justifiable,” Mather says.

“On the other hand, where the employee is too ill to work and the employer fails to follow a fair process, the employee may, in certain circumstances, be awarded compensation up to a maximum of 12 month’s remuneration,” she says.

When an employer realizes that their employee is suffering from depression, they are obligated to support them.

In Mthi’s case, the employers were supportive.

They tried to accommodate him by removing him from traumatizing environments that made him feel uncomfortable.

Mthi is no longer on medication for his depression, but along the way, he has found the positive aspects of life. 

“I go to the gym during my spare time and I also sell t-shirts. With the money I make from selling them, I assist the less fortunate in my community, by buying them school uniforms,” Mthi says.

He is also working with some of his colleagues to build houses in his community.

Proving that Mthi is no longer the bleak and lost man he was two years ago, he initiated a Facebook page last year called Depression is Real.

The page provides a platform to those who would like to talk about depression.

As depression is on the rise in the country, so are those that have won the war over the illness, like Mthi.

The trick is to seek help – before it’s too late. 

Health

South Africa Readies 1.5 Million Graves For Coronavirus Mass Burials

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South Africa’s most populated province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is preparing some 1.5 million gravesites for potential mass burials, its top health official says, as coronavirus cases in the country begin to spike.

KEY FACTS

  • Dr. Bandile Masuku, the health representative on the Gauteng province executive council, said the graves are being prepared, but he hopes they are not needed.
  • Coronavirus cases and deaths are on the rise in South Africa, and the country has now reported more coronavirus cases than any other on the African continent, which had largely been spared the severe impact coronavirus has had on the rest of the world so far.
  • But Masuku said in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Company that a major coronavirus surge is coming.
  • He expects the current spike will continue to worsen until mid-August, but if additional restrictions are put in place, the severity of the spike could be lessened with its peak pushed back until September.
  • Even in a worst-case scenario, Masuku said he doesn’t expect to utilize all the graves, which would require 10% of Gauteng’s 15 million-person population to die, but said it’s better that the province is at least prepared for all the space it could possibly need.
  • Those who are put in the graves will not have individual headstones, Masuku said; instead, there will be one headstone for large numbers of coronavirus victims.

BIG NUMBER

546,318 — That’s how many deaths have been reported worldwide in the pandemic so far, according to Johns Hopkins University—3,502 of which are from South Africa.

KEY BACKGROUND

Much of Africa has not dealt with a significant coronavirus surge like many populated areas in the rest of the world. But still, South African officials have moved to reopen many aspects of what had been a largely shut down country. South Africa is currently in “Level 3” of its reopening, which it entered into in mid-June, easing some restrictions on restaurants, casinos and movie theaters, among other businesses.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Gauteng plans to have 500 beds ready for a coronavirus hospital opening at the end of next week. Another 500 beds should be added by the end of July, Masuku said.

Nicholas Reimann, Forbes Staff, Business

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[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 11 million with the current figure being at 12,415,672.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll continues to rise globally. It is currently at 557,925.

The U.S. leads with 135,828 deaths. Brazil is second with 69,254. The U.K is third with 44,602. Italy is fourth with 34,926, and Mexico is fifth with 33,526.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 7,241,644.

The African continent has 545,313 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 12,503. The continent has made 266,082 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria14,65792810,342
Angola140661
Benin2707228
Botswana60124
Burkina Faso89453804
Burundi85145
Cameroon12,59231310,100
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)7506301
Central African Republic (CAR)2,2227369
Chad85073720
Comoros1762114
Congo72824221
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)9,702684,381
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)7,1891762,317
Djibouti4,704554,550
Egypt79,2543,61722,753
Equatorial Guinea1,30612200
Eritrea9639
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)4904249
Ethiopia5,8461032,430
Gabon5,513422,508
Gambia28124
Ghana18,13411713,550
Guinea5,404334,346
Guinea-Bissau1,46015153
Kenya6,6731492,089
Lesotho42
Liberia45832219
Libya4541063
Madagascar1,29010384
Malawi547669
Mali1,8091041,088
Mauritania4,4721291,677
Mauritius33710325
Mayotte2,298191,790
Morocco13,2152309,158
Mozambique5833151
Namibia3217
Niger98066885
Nigeria27,11061610,801
Reunion4951460
Rwanda5822332
Sao Tome and Principe66112177
Senegal7,0541214,599
Seychelles1111
Sierra Leone1,16951680
Somalia2,61888577
South Africa238,3393,720113,061
South Sudan1,6932749
Sudan9,5736024,606
Tanzania50921183
Togo53113299
Tunisia1,09649998
Uganda705299
Western Sahara918
Zambia1,358111,122
Zimbabwe383454

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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Empty Roads, Occupied Minds

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With a deadly virus still lurking in the streets and tougher times ahead, traders in South Africa’s colorful townships desperately look to resuscitate their businesses with creative offerings online. 

It’s almost two months into lockdown in South Africa and the country’s townships, once bustling hubs of trade, are slowly bracing themselves, with every ounce of willpower left in them, for the unprecedented reality that is ‘the new normal’.

For many, the national shutdown and closed shutters have meant lost jobs, stalled incomes and empty pockets, not to mention a deadly virus stalking them in every street and alley. The small entrepreneurs here – the lifeblood of any economy – now on their last pennies, are still hopeful their re-evaluated strategies and revamped resilience will see them through this fearful nightmare, as the restrictions ease and the townships will slowly crawl back to life again.

Behind the respectful veneer of the lockdown, some of the smaller traders hustle on illegally, under the radar, dodging police patrols and armed surveillance. They have no choice but to stick to their street-smart ways, to survive and feed their families. 

In the township of Soweto, bigger, popular establishments such as The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street – the historic stretch home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the country’s former President Nelson Mandela – are looking to the future with great uncertainty, and have been forced to devise alternative digital strategies as lifelines for the present.

Sifiso Moyo founded The Box Shop, a lifestyle and retail outlet with his business partner, Bernard Msimango, and today, the street it’s located on, which attracted thousands of local and international tourists every day prior to the pandemic, is eerily quiet.

It will be a while until planes of international visitors land again, so the duo have chosen to go to them – online.

“For The Box Shop, we built hype around online and have taken the entire offering that existed in our physical infrastructure into a digital platform and that has made us into an innovation space, giving us access to a global audience. We are beginning to see our products being sold in places like Switzerland and the United Kingdom and we now have started harnessing partnerships,” says Moyo.

The website was launched in May, but the bigger vision for the entity was to start as a retail outlet and work backwards into the manufacturing space.

Moyo says the coronavirus taught them two things – to adapt digitally, and to work in the value chain.

The shop now also makes face masks, sold to public hospitals and NGOs.

A short drive from Vilakazi Street is a restaurant named Sancho, selling African cuisine and founded by Thato Mothopeng, a serial entrepreneur who also founded the popular annual Soweto Camp Festival.

Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector without a formal degree or training, but has had a roaring business nevertheless and is quite well-known in the circuit.

Mothopeng says all SMMEs are at a standstill because business thrives on human contact. But business also needs to be flexible, he adds.

“There are opportunities in the harshest environments. I am using this time to review my strategies. I am also not panicking because the country is managing the crisis; this is an opportunity for SMMEs to reflect because our people are sober now.” 

He had to let go of a few employees and is working remotely.

Further in the township of Soweto, Thembeka Nkosi, the founder of Le Salon, has also developed her own coping mechanisms.

Her shop is shut, but people still seek her grooming advice. As per South Africa’s Level 4 lockdown restrictions, salons and beauty parlors are not allowed to operate.

“This [lockdown] is very stressful, more especially now because other businesses are operating. I still can’t make money, I still have to stay at home and not work,” rues Nkosi.

In addition to getting to spend more time with her five-year-old son, she has recently started sharing her haircare tutorials on social media.

“Now that shops are open to buy hair products, I send video clips to my clients and that brings me joy, knowing that I am still useful to them; even though it’s not making me any money yet, at least I am interacting with my clients,” she says, looking at the bright side.

Ronewa Creations is yet another small business in these parts.

Founded by Lesego Seloane and Dinah Kgeledi, the business offers landscaping services, garden maintenance and water harvesting solutions, and employs seven full-time workers. None of these services are allowed in the current phase of lockdown.

“Now that our province is still on Level 4, it is really difficult to focus because when we were working out our plans, there was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how they could actually be implemented,” says Seloane.

She is grateful the duo have been active on social media, running a garden makeover campaign and offering landscaping designs for free.

“We are using a three-dimensional technology that revamps the look of gardens to give people an idea of how their gardens could potentially look like in the end.”

Despite the challenges, the two keep sane by spending time with family.

“If the business fails, I fail. If I don’t come out of my down moment quick, then I will fail and the entire organization fails,” says Seloane.

You can detect the determination in her voice to overcome this period, come what may.

Like many around her staring fear in the face, she has no other choice.

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