In 2014 we undertook a survey on prevalence of distress and other mental health problems in Zimbabwe’s working population. 707 employees responded to this survey.
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being whereby individuals recognize their abilities, are able to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to their communities (WHO).
The Four-Dimensions Symptom Questionnaire (4DSQ) developed by Terluin (1996) was used in this study. The Questionnaire measures the following dimensions.
Distress – what people experience when they are “under stress”.
Depression – represent depressive thoughts (including suicidal ideation) and loss of pleasure (anhedonia).
Anxiety – includes symptoms such as free-floating anxiety, panic attacks, phobic anxiety, and avoidance behaviour.
Somatization – comprises “psychosomatic symptoms that represent bodily stress reactions when they are mild and few, but psychiatric illness i.e. somatization disorders or hypochondria) when the complaints are many and disruptive. (Clarke & Smith, 2000)
All the observed symptoms indicated that the level of occupational stress experienced by the Zimbabwean workforce is much higher than what has been observed in other countries.
The reported prevalence of psychological distress in the western world is 15% – 25% in the community and 25% – 45% in general practice (Verhaak, 1995).
At the time of the survey, close to 4 in 10 (43%) working Zimbabweans experienced symptoms of distress. The symptoms include; difficulty in thinking clearly, feeling down and depressed, disturbed sleep, easily irritated, lack of energy, tense, easily becoming emotional, no longer have interest in people and things. Other symptoms include feeling like you can’t do anything anymore and can’t face it anymore.
27.3% of the working population was experiencing depression symptoms namely, feeling that things are meaningless, and they can’t see a way of escaping from their situation, life is not worthwhile, they would be better if they were dead, they can’t enjoy anything anymore, wishing they were dead.
18.3% of the working population experienced anxiety symptoms and these include vague feelings of fear, trembling when with others, panic attacks, feeling frightened and fear of going out of the house alone.
33.4% of the working population in Zimbabwe experienced somatisation symptoms and these include headache, painful muscles, back pain, bloated feeling in the abdomen, neck pain, blurred vision, dizziness or feeling light-headed, nausea or an upset stomach, pressure or a tight feeling in the chest, pain in the chest, tingling in the fingers, excessive sweating, palpitations and fainting.
The manufacturing sector had the highest prevalence of depression symptoms (27.4%) followed by the financial sector (26.2%) with the IT and Telecommunications (17.8%) in third position.
The Financial Service Sector (29.8%) led in terms of prevalence of distress followed by the Manufacturing Sector (26%).
Anxiety prevalence was highest in the Financial Service Sector (33.8%) followed by the Manufacturing Sector (28.1%).
The prevalence of somatisation was highest in the Financial Service Sector (38.2%) followed by IT and Telecommunications (22.2%) with the Manufacturing Sector in third position with 20.5%.
Female workers (34.2%) were more depressed than their male counterparts (21.5%). This meant that slightly more than 3 in every 10 working women were suffering from depression.
Just under half of the working women were experiencing symptoms consistent with a person in distress representing 47.6% prevalence rate.
Anxiety was low in both males and females with slightly under 2 in 10 in both women and men showing anxiety symptoms representing a 16.2% prevalence.
4 in 10 working women had somatisation symptoms while in men it was 3 in every 10.
Middle managers were the most afflicted with distress (6 in 10), depression (6 in 10), anxiety (6 in 10) and somatisation (5 in 10) symptoms followed by non-managerial employees with 5 in 10, 5 in 10 , 5 in 10, and 4 in 10 respectively. Executives were the least afflicted with less than 1 in 10 for distress, depression and anxiety symptoms and less than 2 in 10 for somatisation symptoms.
Depression symptoms were more prevalent in the 31 – 40 years age group with 9 in 10 of them experiencing depression symptoms. This was followed by those above 40 years where half of them experienced depression symptoms.
8 in 10 of the working people within the age of 31 – 40 experienced distress symptoms. 6 in 10 of those above 40 year experience distress symptoms.
9 in 10 of employees between 31-40 years had anxiety symptoms representing a 90% prevalence rate.
9 in 10 working employees between the ages of 31-40 years’ experienced somatisation symptoms representing 90% prevalence rate.
There were statistically significant differences in distress, depression, anxiety and somatisation between male and female workers.
Many employers are not aware of these health and wellness risks. Employers instead of focusing on physical health alone should also focus on mental health as mental health problems correlate positively to employee productivity, customer satisfaction, accident frequency – amongst other key business indicators.
Employers should also regularly provide information about mental health issues and employee benefits to reduce the stigma sometimes associated with seeking help for mental health problems. Many employees are suffering from distress and mental health problem but will not public admit to it for fear of stigmatization.
We are currently in the process of undertaking the 2016 Distress and Other Mental Health Problems in the Zimbabwean Working Population Survey. For more information on how you may participate in this survey or how I may assist your company in this area, please contact me on the details below.
Memory Nguwi is the Managing Consultant of Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com