Working for an advertising agency, Khensani* was well aware of the intense pressure and often unreasonable expectations synonymous with the advertising industry.
She was used to working 12-hour days, but eventually the burden of executing two people’s jobs with no assistance and having failed promises made to her took their toll.
“I was struggling to get up everyday and I started not liking my job and I fell into a depression. I suffered from depression in my youth, but I was always able to manage it,” she says.
“I started having panic attacks literally all the time and they got so bad that I would pass out from anxiety, it was very unhealthy.”
She says she spoke to her line manager who basically told her to suck it up because half of the agency employees were stressed and burnt out and that was just the nature of the game.
READ MORE: Tackling unhappiness in the workplace
Her HR manager was slightly more sympathetic and put her in touch with a therapist linked to the agency. Her boss though was not very supportive of the interventions and expected her to schedule appointments over the weekend or after hours and would give her a hard time if she had to leave the office for an appointment or arrive at work late after starting her morning with a session. She was eventually given a week’s leave.
“My boss started questioning me the minute I got into the office, asking me where I was the day before and why I took another [day off] when I had been on leave the whole week before. They thought that everything would be resolved within a week and without anything at work changing and it just wasn’t possible. I got to the point where I just couldn’t anymore and I feared that I was going to kill someone, so I made the decision to quit my job,” she says.
READ MORE: 5 tips for beating end-of year-burnout
According to Dr Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist and Psychiatry Management Group board member, work-related stress, major depression, burnout and anxiety disorders account for more than 40% of all work-related illnesses experienced by people in the workplace and on average, these conditions result in a loss of earnings estimated to be around R40,6 billion every year.
Too often than not, managers are the biggest contributors to stressors in the workplace, with unreasonable demands and expectations and a general ‘this is the nature of the industry, deal with it or leave’ attitude.
Schoeman says companies need to play a greater role in reducing stressors by building healthy working environments that actively promote mental health programmes as a proactive rather than a reactive measure.
“Companies should foster a healthy educational environment with pro-active mental health awareness programmes, stress management training, access to services which nurture help-seeking behaviour, implement a coaching or counselling programme, identify people in need of care and offer them resources to ensure they receive proper treatment,” she says.
READ MORE: Tackling burnout in the workplace
“Burnout leads to feelings of failure, being worn-out, poor performance and reduced personal accomplishments. The condition is a direct result of unclear job expectations, poor job fit, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, lack of control and a work-life imbalance.”
Here are a few signs to watch that signal you’re heading for a nervous breakdown:
- You’re finding it hard to concentrate
- You can’t stop eating even though you’re not necessarily hungry
- You experience consistent stomach aches, constipation or diarrhoea
- You’ve stopped caring about what you wear or your image
- You’re always on edge or feeling anxious
*Not her real name