Mental health literacy and attitudes of human resource practitioners in South Africa

Hugo, Charmaine June (2003-03)

Thesis (MA)--University of Stellenbosch, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Background: South African companies need to contend with numerous transformation and development issues since the country's re-entry into the international marketplace. One component that is receiving increasing attention is the wellbeing of employees in the drive to remain competitive within the global economy. This study argues that mental illness is a component of employee wellbeing that has been ignored, even though these conditions are highly prevalent and costly to businesses. The lack of recognition, research and information about mental illness in the workplace raises questions about the knowledge and orientation of human resource (HR) practitioners. This study therefore aimed to investigate and describe the mental health literacy and attitudes ofHR practitioners in South Africa. Methodology: This study had a descriptive purpose and employed a sample survey research design to distribute a mail questionnaire to a randomly selected sample of human resource practitioners registered with the South African Board for Personnel Practice (SABPP). The measuring instrument comprised mental health literacy and attitudes scales that have been extensively researched and reported to have sound psychometric properties. Three vignettes portraying mental disorders selected for their relevance to the business world (i.e., depression, panic disorder and alcohol abuse) were used as aids to achieving the research aim. A standard statistical package (SPSS 10.0) was utilised to determine descriptive and inferential statistics with an accepted 5% level of significance. Results: A response rate of 31% was achieved yielding an equal distribution of responses across the study vignettes. HR practitioners who acted as respondents to this study were found to be illiterate regarding mental illness and to hold subtle negative attitudes towards the mentally ill. Less than 10% could recognise mental illness as opposed to the majority who regarded the behaviour in the vignettes as normal responses. Whereas just over a third could correctly name the diagnosis described in the vignettes, only 7% were able to identify panic disorder. Most respondents believed that psychosocial stress factors caused mental illness, while only 29% where of the opinion that biological factors had a role in the aetiology of mental illness. Respondents favoured psychological and lifestyle treatment strategies and opposed medical treatments, irrespective of the type of mental illness presented with. Although as a group respondents showed mainly positive attitudes towards the mentally ill, evidence was found that the commonly held myths of danger/violence and the irresponsible/ childlike nature of the mentally ill were adhered to. Conclusions: The HR field should take cognisance of the reality of mental illness. Urgent steps need to be taken to adequately equip HR practitioners and students with both evidencebased knowledge and a positive orientation to enable the effective management of these conditions in the workplace. Attention should be given to addressing common mistruths and misconceptions, and to creating an awareness of the significant role that the HR practitioner can play in timeously recognising and appropriately dealing with employee mental health problems so that companies can benefit by the optimal utilisation of human resources.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Agtergrond: Suid-Afrikaanse maatskappye het te doen met verskeie transformasie- en ontwikkelings aangeleenthede sedert die land se terugkeer na die internasionale mark. Die welstand van werkers is 'n aspek wat toenemend aandag verkry met hierdie strewe om mededingend te bly in die globale ekonomie. Hierdie studie argumenteer dat geestessiekte as 'n komponent van werkerwelstand geïgnoreer word, alhoewel dit algemeen voorkom en besighede heelwat geld kos. Die beperkte herkenning, navorsing en inligting oor geestessiekte in die werkplek lei tot vrae omtrent die kennis en inslag van Menslike Hulpbron- (MR) praktisyns. Derhalwe, ondersoek en beskryf hierdie studie die kennis en houding jeens geestesgesondheid van MH-praktisyns in Suid-Afrika. Metodologie: Hierdie studie se doel is beskrywend van aard en maak gebruik van 'n steekproef opname navorsingsontwerp. 'n Vraelys is gepos aan 'n ewekansig gesellekteerde steekproef van MH-praktisyns wat geregistreer is by die Suid-Afrikaanse Raad vir Personeelpraktyk. Die meetinstrument bestaan uit geestesgesondheid kennis- en houdingskale wat ekstensief nagevors is en wat beskryf is om goeie psigometriese eienskappe te besit. Drie gevaUestudies van geestessteurings relevant tot die besigheidswêreld (depressie, panieksteuring en alkoholmisbruik) is gebruik as hulpmiddels om die navorsingsdoeiwit te bereik. Standaard statistiese sagteware (SPSS 10.0) is gebruik om beskrywende en afleidende statistiek te bepaal met 'n aangenome 5% vlak van betekenisvolheid. Bevindings: Altesaam 31% van vraelyste is beantwoord en dit was eweredig verdeel tussen die verskillende gevallestudies. MH-praktisyns wat deelgeneem het aan hierdie studie het swak kennis omtrent geestessiekte en subtiele negatiewe houdings ten opsigte van persone met geestesiekte getoon. Minder as 10% kon geestessiekte identifiseer teenoor die meerderheid wat die gedrag in die gevallestudies as normaal beskou het. Net oor 'n derde kon die diagnose korrek benoem en slegs 7% kon panieksteuring korrek identifiseer. Meeste van die respondente het geglo dat psigososiale stresfaktore geestessiekte veroorsaak, terwyl net 29% van mening was dat biologiese faktore 'n rol speel in die etiologie van geestessiekte. Respondente het psigologiese en lewensstyl behandelingsmodaliteite verkies bo mediese behandeling en dit was onafhanklik van die tipe geestessteuring wat voorgekom het. Alhoewel die respondente as 'n groep hoofsaaklik 'n positiewe houding getoon het ten opsigte van persone met geestessiekte, was daar bewyse dat algemene mites ondersteun is en dat persone met geestessiekte beskou is as gevaarlik/aggressief en as onverantwoordeliklkinderlik. Gevolgtrekkings: Die MH veld moet die realiteit van geestessiekte aanvaar. Dringende stappe moet geneem word om MH-praktisyns en studente te voorsien van uitkomsgebaseerde kennis en 'n positiewe houding sodat effektiewe hantering van hierdie toestande kan plaasvind in die werkplek. Algemene onwaarhede en miskonsepsies moet aangespreek word en die bewustheid van die betekenisvolle rol van die MH-praktisyn moet benadruk word. Geestesgesondheidsprobleme van die werker moet betyds herken word en toepaslik gehanteer word sodat maatskappye voordeel kan trek uit die optimale gebruik van menslike hulpbronne.

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