What you need to know:
- According to the minister for health, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania is estimated to have approximately seven million patients with various mental illnesses and drug use, and among them, more than 1.5 million people live with depression.
Dar es Salaam. Ms Amina Hassan (not her real name), a 32-year-old marketing executive, found herself caught in the throes of a mental health crisis due to workplace pressures in 2022.
She had always been a diligent and ambitious employee at one of the busiest telecom companies in the country, earning her place among the rising stars in the marketing industry.
Her days were filled with meetings, presentations, and tight deadlines, and she was often burning the midnight oil to meet her targets. Over time, the relentless pace of her job began to take a toll on her mental health, she narrates to The Citizen. It started with sleepless nights and a constant sense of unease. Amina found herself overwhelmed by the pressure to perform, and her self-esteem began to erode.
“I became irritable and anxious, shouting at my colleagues over minor issues. Despite my dedication, I felt like a failure, struggling to meet my own high expectations,” she says.
Ms Amina’s situation is not unique in the country’s workplaces. Experts say in the busy streets of Dar es Salaam, where life moves at a hectic pace, mental health issues often go unnoticed.
They say that beneath the surface, there are countless individuals silently grappling with the weight of stress, anxiety, and depression, all while striving to meet the demands of their workplace.
The World Health Organisation’s data from 2019 revealed that mental health issues affect one in every eight people worldwide.
“In Tanzania, the situation has been equally concerning, with suicide rates on the rise due to issues such as anxiety, depression, anger, and substance abuse,” says Dr Abdul Ahmed from Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).
According to the minister for health, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania is estimated to have approximately seven million patients with various mental illnesses and drug use, and among them, more than 1.5 million people live with depression.
Recognising the growing prevalence of mental health challenges in the workplace, the Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE) has taken a bold step to address this silent crisis.
In collaboration with the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OSHA) and the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA), ATE is spearheading a movement to promote mental well-being in the workplace.
ATE's upcoming health event, dubbed Waajiri Health Bonanza scheduled for October 5 to 7, focuses on the theme, “Promoting Mental Wellness for Better Performance at the Workplaces” along with the Celebration of Customer Service Week 2023 with the Message "Team Service".
In this regard, Dr Ahmed says the theme holds promise for individuals like Amina and signifies a shift in the workplace culture towards greater awareness and support for mental health.
Ms Suzanne Ndomba-Doran, the Executive Director of ATE, emphasises the need for collective action: "For a long time, employees have faced mental health challenges that have grown more prominent in recent years, a situation that requires us to come together to promote awareness."
Ms Amina's ordeal is a poignant example of why, “our efforts are timely and critical. The mounting pressures at work push people to the brink, and become hesitant to seek help due to the fear of stigma.”
It's a fear shared by many in Tanzania, where mental health issues have long been shrouded in silence, according to Dr Ahmed.
Mr Willy Kibona from TUCTA underlines the importance of creating a supportive workplace environment: "We have to establish a more conducive workplace environment that enables individuals to seek assistance without fear of stigmatisation."
“My situation might have been different if I had found support and understanding from my employer and colleagues,” regrets Ms Amina.
The stigma surrounding mental health often prevents individuals from seeking help until it is too late, a reason why ATE dedicates its mission to break down such barriers.
The association, according to Ms Domba-Doran plans to educate and motivate workers to protect their mental health through various means, including constant exercise.
Ms Amina says, like many others, “I had neglected my physical well-being amidst the demands of my job.” Dr Ahmed affirms, “Regular exercise and a focus on holistic health can play a significant role in combating workplace stress.”
Stigmatisation, inadequate education, a shortage of professional counselors in the workplace, and insufficient management support have all contributed to the mental health crisis in the country.
Amina's story serves as a stark reminder of these challenges, and it's clear that a multifaceted approach is needed to address them effectively.
The victim's journey towards recovery was long and challenging. “With the support of a therapist, I began to address my mental health issues and gradually regained my confidence.”
According to Dr Ahmed, Tanzania's workplaces are grappling with a silent crisis of mental health, and individuals have borne the brunt of this burden.