HSEDr Maha Al Shehab, general secretary, Bahrain Health & Safety Society, gave a presentation at the Bahrain HSE Forum on providing comprehensive healthcare for the workforce, in which she stressed the importance of focusing on aspects such as mental health and social wellbeing as well as physical health

“When the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation define occupational health as the promotion of the highest level of physical, mental and social wellbeing of all workers at work,” she said. “Many organisations have programmes for health and safety to protect against physical hazards, but we are living now in the e-society and facing pressure and stress. We’re seeing an increase in incidents of depression and other mental problems such as stress, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

“So it is about time to establish a mental health programme in any organisation for early detection of any workers suffering from mental health problems, and trying to help those workers n an appropriate way. The early detection is for their safety and others’ safety as well. Those people might suffer from loss of judgement or lack of focus, and are not in a good position to perform. Underestimating such cases, and because of the stereotypes and stigma of these problems, they might not confess these symptoms to anyone, so it is our job is to go by those warning signs, detect any change in their behaviour and productivity, and tackle them. We should provide for them the safe environment and confidentiality they need to express their problems, and try to engage them.

“It’s a culture, and it’s about how we build up a culture in the work environment that recognises that any of us can be in their position. No-one is immune from having mental health problems. Workers maybe willing to admit to physical health issues but are unwilling to admit to mental health problems. And we have to be confident enough to address this issue, we need to overcome these obstacles and have a good programme, because the statistics show the positive impact that that good work has on the general health of workers, and that workers who suffered from depression and got the right help at the right time are much more productive than others. Anyone with mental health problems will say they wish they can work, because it really affects their life, the general health and their mental health in a positive way.”

Dr Al Shehab added that there s an increasing awareness of the importance of focusing on mental health to mitigate costs such as health insurance, absenteeism and presenteeism, i.e. being at work and not being productive.

“It’s very important to establish wellbeing programmes, including mental health, as the end result is good for everybody,” she said.

Events such as the HSE Forum help to build up awareness, for example of the warning signs, and build up the culture. “And of course the commitment of the leaders is the cornerstone,” she concluded.