The launch was preceded by an awareness march
* Baseline study in June 2020 established the prevalence of common mental health problems among employees
* ESCOM engaged the services of St John of God Hospital as consultants in the policy development
* There was a significant association between having a substance use problem
* And suffering from anxiety and depression and anxiety
By Peter Kanjere, ESCOM PRO
ESCOM launched its first-ever Workplace Mental Wellness Policy to address mental health issues that affect employees’ performance and productivity.
Launched at Chichiri Power Station on November 21, ESCOM engaged the services of St John of God Hospital as consultants in the policy development.
In his presentation, St. John of God psychiatrist, Dr Saulos Gondwe said they conducted a baseline study in June 2020 to establish the prevalence of common mental health problems among ESCOM employees — a survey they involved some 352 ESCOM employees.
“There was a significant association between having a substance use problem and suffering from anxiety and depression and anxiety,” said Dr Gondwe. “This implies that individuals with a substance use problem were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.”
In his speech, ESCOM Chief Operations Officer, Maxwell Mulimakwenda said the policy adds value to the corporation’s strategic objectives such as increasing productivity, improved customer service delivery, staff empowerment and strategic partnerships.
“Therefore, all of us have a role to play in the implementation of this policy,” said Mulimakwenda, who was the guest of honour. “It is not just about one department. The underlying aim of the policy is to increase productivity.”
Taking his turn, ESCOM Director of Human Resources and Administration, Chrispin Banda said the policy seeks to address how the corporation can mitigate its impact to ensure that productivity is not affected.
“It is going to help because in a way, there will be a guideline on how to deal with issues of mental health. For example, we have medical aid but in the past, the medical aid was not covering issues of mental health.
“From now, our medical aid has to speak to the policy. We are going to incorporate issues of mental health in our medical aid.
“We are also going to come up with interventions on access to issues to do with counselling. We know that issues of mental health can have a greater impact on performance and productivity.
“So, we know that if we can have interventions that can mitigate issues of mental health, it can lead to improved performance and productivity.”
Chairperson of the policy launch committee, Chifundo Segula said ESCOM started developing the policy in April 2020 in tandem with the Performance Contract between the chief executive officer and the Secretary to the President & Cabinet — in line with the 2019 Public Sector Reforms.
The launch was spiced up by a march from Chichiri Power Station main gate to the transport workshop area where the launch took place.
Each department received a copy of the policy document and after the launch, the employees went through mental health clinics which will run until Friday at the same venue involving senior officers such as district engineers.
Just last week, Blantyre City Presbytery of the CCAP joined efforts for swift action to address the alarming increase of suicide cases in the country, which — according statistics from the National Police Headquarters statistics — stand at 168 people committing suicide from January to October this year and 58 cases were registered in the month of October alone.
There have also been many other cases reported in the media in this month of November and the Blantyre City Presbytery announced at a press conference last week that its spiritual Ministers will undergo special training on mental health on Friday, November 25 to incorporate the alarming subject in their sermons.
Presbytery Clerk, Rev Bruno Chipewa said incorporating the subject in their sermons, the Church will help to “increase public awareness and to promote mental health through positive religious coping, community support and positive beliefs and awareness through our structures”.
“We believe that well managed religion and spirituality can result into good mental health by means of positive religious coping, mutual understanding, good communication and positive beliefs towards building a better nation.
“Of the many problems citizens may be going through, we believe there is something positive that can be worked on,” said Reverend Chipewa of the campaign under the theme: ‘Spiritual resilience is a powerful tool in maintaining good mental health’.
Also last week, mental health experts in the country called for development of psycho-social support seeking behaviours among people whenever they are stressed rather than committing suicide.
In an interview with Malawi News Agency (MANA), Dr. Charles Masulani — chief executive officer for St. John of God Hospitaller Services — described the recent surge in suicidal cases ‘a disease’, which calls for enhancement and scaling up of mental health services.
“The surge in suicide cases is a general concern,” he told MANA, adding that they were working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to develop a national suicide prevention strategy.
“It’s a document that will outline what we need to be doing as a nation and what the government ought to do for its citizenry to ensure that cases of suicide are reducing,” he said.
MANA also quoted another metal health expert, Mwiza Mphande, who said the trend was as a result of people failing to open up about their problems, saying: “People fear being misunderstood, that’s why they resort to suicide.
“They must know that it’s normal to feel the way they are feeling and it does not make them less human. Committing suicide doesn’t bring peace rather it leaves pain to dependents,” he said.
Mphande emphasized that the public and private sectors should advocate for mental health as was the case with the CoVID-19 pandemic, HIV/Aids and other diseases.
“I believe we can do better as a country if we can allocate resourcesfor provision of quality health service delivery with focus on mental healthin our national budget to address the issue,” he said.
He quoted a United Nations report that encourages African countries to allocate US$2 per capita for mental health in their national budgets, which he described as meager contribution towards prevention of suicide cases.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express