Centuries ago, the leading causes of death were contagious diseases; thus, Tuberculosis, Measles and Typhoid fever were prevalent. This led to a focus on curbing their occurrences and management with the Biomedical Model.
The advantages of this model helped to secure medicines that destroy pathogens or ease pain and suffering, produce vaccines to protect people against viral diseases such as polio and acquire medical technologies (e.g. x-rays and imaging devices) to diagnose disease. It also made available new surgical procedures to reduce complications and save lives.
Later, there was a dramatic change in the pattern of illness in the 20th century where non-contiguous diseases linked to behaviour or lifestyle (e.g. heart diseases and cancer) were on the increase and could not be contained by the Biomedical Model alone. It needed a biopsychosocial solution.
The mind’s behaviour influences physical health and illness, and vice-versa, hence the need for a holistic approach towards treatment that considers the mental well-being of individuals.
The World Health Organisation (2017) describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Meanwhile, it is important to note that our mental health is in a state of a continuum. Thus, could at one point be in a healthy state with normal functioning, and at another point, react to common and reversible distress, be injured with significant functional impairment, or be ill with a clinical disorder where there is severe and persistent functional impairment.
Psychosocial, biological, and environmental factors may influence one’s mental health state due to stress.
Similarly, stress may negatively influence one’s physical health, and can better be explained by the role of stress hormones, which may cause diabetes, hypertension, stroke, energy drain, suppression of the immune systems, among several other conditions.
There is therefore need for prompt identification of signs of stress (e.g. anger, confusion, irritability, frequent headaches, muscle pain, sleep problems, changes in appetite, etc.) and distress (e.g. suicidal intents or attempts, threats of harming others, being very anxious and fearful) to help intervene appropriately.
Ensuring one’s well-being is therefore not negotiable. What is important is cultivating healthy living, which involves eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, daily exercise, and accurate information.
Then, we must have a meaningful daily hobby and practise relaxation. Also minimizing the use of over-the-counter drugs, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, among other psychoactive substances would be helpful. In addition, it is important to be realistic about what one can and cannot do to avoid unnecessary stress and speak to a trusted person when the need be.
Roles of HR professionals
Human Resource persons have an essential role to place in ensuring their own well-being and that of their employees. They should offer opportunities for talks with employees that guarantee their privacy and confidentiality, should inquire about the current psychosocial stressors of employees for prompt intervention, and use supportive communication skills (e.g. listen actively, remain calm, and be non-judgemental).
In addition, Human resource professionals should investigate any situation of maltreatment, abuse, neglect or bullying at the workplace for redress. They should also explore solutions or ways of coping together with employees. Then, they identify and involve support systems such as (e.g. family) where appropriate, and encourage an employee’s involvement in a self-help group where available.
Finally, human resource persons must remember that anyone can be vulnerable or marginalized at any point in life, and always respond in a caring, respectful, and empathetic way to everyone.
They must give special consideration in specific situations and groups, ensure their own protection while offering practical help or support to others.
Of equal importance is a follow up programme after referring employees to other people or specialists for support. In all of that, the professional must be gentle on himself or herself when they are unable to provide support in certain situations.
Akosua Serwaah Bonsu is a Clinical Psychologist.
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