x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Bosses urged to keep eye on workers' mental health

Early diagnosis of depression among workers can reduce the risk of suicide, some of the country's largest employers have been told.


DUBAI // Early diagnosis of depression among workers can reduce the risk of suicide, some of the country's largest employers have been told. Mohitheen Batcha, corporate welfare manager for ETA Ascon Star, one of the country's biggest construction companies, described mental health problems among workers as "a major issue for employers". He was speaking during a seminar at which several major construction companies, including Dulsco and Arabtec, stressed their commitment to their workers' mental health.

Mr Batcha said ETA, which has 72,000 workers in the UAE, had measures in place to treat at-risk workers. "Mental stress leads to low productivity, absenteeism, depression and a high rate of visa cancellations as workers are forced to return home due to family problems," he said. "Counselling sessions and a programme of sporting activities and excursions can help bring suicide rates down. "Staff with psychiatric training can identify the signs of suicide. If employees are absent from work without illness, not socialising with roommates or have a loss of appetite, we identify them as 'at risk' and ensure they receive support.

"If depression goes unnoticed and medication is not prescribed then it can lead to suicide." The Government had acted on the issue and ETA wanted to show its support, said Mr Batcha. "As well as counselling for workers, it is important to keep them motivated and in a healthy state of mind," he said. Figures on the number of suicides among construction workers were not available. However, the Indian Consulate in Dubai reported 69 suicides among Indian expatriates in the UAE last year, with 118 in 2007.

The consulate, which jointly hosted the seminar with ETA, provides a counselling service for Indian expatriate workers, who make up a large proportion of Dubai's labourers. As well as leading construction companies, more than 30 banking, information technology and hospitality businesses were represented at the meeting. Dr Mohamed Hassan Fayek, the head of psychiatry at Rashid Hospital, and a senior official at the Dubai Health Authority, said: "Employers should not wait for treatment of the mentally ill. By this stage it may be too late for the individual. Instead, they should focus on prevention."

Mr Batcha said the seminar had "encouraged other companies to provide multilingual welfare officers at labour camps to serve the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepalese workers". Sharjah Cement Factory presented a cost-benefit analysis that showed how a counselling service resulted in a significant increase in worker productivity. The programme being pushed is based on the World Health Organisation's Promoting Mental Health report, which encouraged countries to give mental health the same importance and investment as physical health.

The report highlighted low-income workers and immigrant communities as particularly vulnerable groups. @Email:tbrooks@thenational.ae