Ministry Director Urges Employees to Prioritize Mental Health by Taking a Day Off


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Ministry Director Urges Employees to Prioritize Mental Health by Taking a Day Off
Dr Hazel Othello, Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit Director at Tuesday’s World Mental Health Day celebration hosted by the North Central Regional Health Authority at Saith Park, Chaguanas.
– Rishard Khan

Ever woke up not feeling your best mentally or emotionally, when even the thought of work only adds to your feelings of anxiety or depression?

In these circumstances, the director of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health, Dr Hazel Othello, says it’s okay to take a “mental health day.”

Speaking to reporters after the launch of the Ministry of Health’s Paint d Town Green World Mental Health Day observance at Saith Park, Chaguanas, Othello said conditions affecting the mind should be treated like those affecting any part of the body.

“If that’s what you need to do to remain well, then yes, you do not hesitate. That’s what we talk about – stigma. You do not hesitate to take a sick day because you have the flu and you don’t want to spread the flu to the others,” she said.

“If you are so stressed that you are going to be irritable when you go to work today, and you’re going to drive everybody nuts wondering if they have to tiptoe around you – and I don’t say that in a derogatory manner, but when we’re sad, we feel irritable, and it could be difficult for those around us to cope.”

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While soca artiste Kees Dieffenthaller, his song Mental Day, sings about taking a mental day to enjoy a party, Othello said such days were best spent doing something enjoyable.

“Get calm again and then face the world around and be productive again,” Othello said.

“Don’t spend that day working on laundry and cooking…if it’s a rest day, it’s a rest day. Everybody will survive, they’ll find something to eat, and the laundry will get done some other time. Get your rest, recentre yourself, watch a movie, read a book – whatever you enjoy. Take that time to relax.”

Ministry Director Urges Employees to Prioritize Mental Health by Taking a Day Off
Dr Hazel Othello, Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit Director at Tuesday’s World Mental Health Day celebration hosted by the North Central Regional Health Authority at Saith Park, Chaguanas.
– Rishard Khan

She warned, however, that people having difficulties coping with stress should reach out to someone for help.

A recent survey of 1,207 public service workers by the Personnel Office of the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) found employees did not believe mental health was a major concern for employers.

It found 52.8 per cent of respondents believed their employers did not prioritise the psychological well-being of staff, while 60.7 per cent felt senior management did not consider the psychological health of employees of great importance.

Othello did not comment on whether employers should include a formal “mental health day” in their leave allocation. However, during her address, she said employers had a duty to ensure they provided an environment that was not toxic for employees.

“I do some private practice as a psychiatrist, and I see a number of persons with depression and anxiety whose primary source of stress is work-related. So there is an imperative for those of us who are leaders in the workplace to ensure that our workspaces are not toxic and that they encourage a culture of support for those who live with mental health disorders.”

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She said employees who lived with a mental health disorder should not feel ashamed to come to work or embarrassed if they needed to take a sick day or time off to attend a clinic.

“We’re not asking for anything special. We’re not asking you to bend over backwards and treat them differently from anybody else.”

She said anxiety and depression were the most prevalent mental-health conditions in TT and globally, resulting in a trillion dollars lost annually in productivity.

“You want your employees to be productive. Therefore, you create an enabling environment that allows them to be their best. It’s a win-win situation.”

She said she was encouraged by the number of requests to the ministry by corporate TT for health-promotional activities in workplaces. She credits the covid19 pandemic for increasing people’s awareness of the significance of mental health.

Also speaking during the commemoration, Pan American Health Organization country representative Dr Erica Wheeler said one in eight people were living with mental health conditions globally with mental, neurological, and substance-use conditions and death by suicide accounting for more than one-third of total years lived with disability.

She said those conditions included anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and harmful use of alcohol, which was reported among 8.2 per cent of people over 15. She said the region of the Americas was the only World Health Organization region where suicide rates had increased from 2000 to 2019.

In recent weeks, mental health has been in the spotlight, especially in the case of a murder-suicide involving two police officers who were in a relationship and having a domestic dispute. Afterwards the head of the Police Service Social Welfare Association, Gideon Dickson, urged officers to make use of the available support services. Days later, a mentally-ill man hacked his father to death in their Freeport home.

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Speaking during the budget debate in Parliament on Monday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said findcareTT’s website experiences the most traffic on suicide prevention. The NGO that runs the website, the MindWise project, has since created a dedicated resource to address suicide at preventsuicidett.com.

For a comprehensive list of local free mental health and psychosocial support services, go to: www.findcarett.com.



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