Unforgiving bosses, impossible tasks and mounting targets. Piles of work that don’t get finished even when you toil for 12 hours a day. Workplace disgusts are driving employees into depression and drugs in Oman. Alvin Thomas follows the trail of tears
Ageism, gender bias, bullying and ever-increasing workloads are driving employees mad. At least that’s what young marketing executive Fatma al Lawati (name changed to protect identity) who works with one of Oman’s leading banks believes.
The 24-year-old joined the bank fresh after graduating from a university in 2016. First on her list of priorities was repaying the loan she had taken to pursue her degree.
During a recent interaction with Y outside of her working hours, Fatma tells: “My prayers were answered when I got the job at the bank. The pay wasn’t good, to be honest, but it covered the education loan I had taken from the same bank.
“I was a young, passionate and energetic employee at first – and I had fulfilled my dream of making my own money. I was even promoted twice in my first 16 months after I hit my targets, from a junior to my current position as a marketing executive. But that meant I was given almost impossible targets (to catch new clients).
But the over-achieving Omani woman soon realised that with greater power came greater responsibility. And for Fatma, her responsibilities grew further than her span – and that meant she carried work home, dedicating up to 12 hours a day to complete her tasks.
“One of my college professors had told me that anyone who opts to work for a corporate firm is signing their soul away to the company. I remember laughing at that then,” she reminisces.
“It has been a while since I have smiled like a normal human being.
“Work, work and work: That is my life now. I even asked to be demoted to my previous position but my immediate boss said it was either my current job or nothing. And ever since that conversation, his attitude towards me has changed for the worse.
“Of late I have been holding as many as over 12 meetings with clients, following which I will also have to take care of existing clients,” she exclaims, before telling me that she could be receiving and making over 60 calls in a single day.
“Everybody tells me that it’s wise not to show your emotions at work. But inside my head, I’m in pain and there’s a little version of me screaming and crying with pain and agony.
“I know that it takes a lot to succeed in life and that we must all work hard to do so, but …”
Her words deeply moved us, forcing us to connect her with one of the leading mental health wellness institutions in the Sultanate – The Whispers of Serenity Clinic.
While Fatma may have found respite and possibly a solution to her worries, several others – tens of thousands – continue to bottle up their emotions and their pains go unnoticed.
But is occupational stress affecting the employees and employers in Oman? And if so, is it prevalent to such an extent that it must be brought into
A serious problem
Depression falls into the category of cognitive, emotional, and social impairments (CESI).
During an in-depth conversation with Y, Dr Amira al Raaidan, the director for health education and awareness programs, and head of the mental health department in the Ministry of Health, says: “Just like every other country, people in Oman undergo problems arising from workplace stress. And among the main problems is depression and anxiety. Both are very dangerous and need to be treated adequately and on time to avoid complications that may arise from these two conditions.”
Depression stemming from work is simply termed ‘workplace depression’ – and is becoming an area of increasing concern. And according to mental health website, PsychCentral, it is defined as the state of mind that arises when an employee is depressed in the workplace.
When an employee is depressed, it can affect the employee’s productivity, and mental and physical well-being. In some cases, it can also affect the mood of their co-workers too.
“Depression and anxiety can arise from various factors,” says Dr Amira. “It can be from a tough employer or boss, strict deadlines, relationship problems and many other factors.
“By 2020, depression will become the biggest form of mental health illness. That’s a sign that things need to be done and that we need to take care of the well-being of these people who are suffering.”
She’s not wrong. Statistics in a report published in the Oman Medical Journal of 2017 states that there are signs that depression is on the rise in Oman.
STATISTICS OF DEPRESSION
“Currently, when we speak about workplace depression, anxiety and stress, we usually relate with employees and office-goers. Certain jobs require more monitoring and it can take a toll on the person who is presented with the task.
And when it happens on a more frequent basis, it can affect his or her health,” Dr Amira says.
While signs of depression in children can be bed wetting, biting nails and aggression, adults exhibit symptoms more differently, the doctor explains.
The signs of an adult suffering from anxiety or depression can be irritation, aggression, mood swings, restlessness, emotional instability, pessimism and hopelessness.
While these can hamper one’s mental health drastically, studies point out that occupational depression and anxiety can also lead to other health problems.
Dr Amira adds: “One suffering from these conditions can experience other problems and diseases like obesity, hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes and, in some cases, substance abuse.”
Youth on the brink of suicide
During our interviews, we stumbled upon one Omani man in his early30s who claimed that he had used narcotics to calm himself following working hours. He refused to reveal his identity to us, but asserted that he has been clean since 2015.
“When I took my new job as a junior engineer in a telecom firm in Oman, I was only 26. The initial days were all about learning and taking time to settle into my first real job,” he tells Y.
“But as time flew, the company began downsizing and eventually I had to take care of everything from renewing visas for existing employees, which is the job of a public relations office; site inspections; health and safety of the staff; laying the blueprints for our projects; and, finally, creating weekly reports.
“This grew on my head to a point that I couldn’t take it anymore. I always knew that I had hated the job and that I was very upset. My bosses were unforgiving and there was no room for errors. This continued for eight years and I was doing it as a routine for my family (parents and siblings).
“That’s when I came across the narcotic, which my friend used to abuse himself with. It didn’t take me long to get hooked onto it. And before I knew it, I was taking it at least five to six days a week and I was spending more than RO300 to fulfil
“The pleasure came from detaching myself from the surroundings and work. But I would still go to work the next day and do my job. Soon, this activity became the reason I was earning; my whole life fell apart, but I kept thinking that all was well.”
Things changed soon, though, he pointed out, before taking a deep gulp. The man’s emotions ran deep when talking about his bygone days.
“The time soon came when people at work started suspecting that I was using narcotics. I was let go from my job. And I remember walking into my house at 12:15pm – for what seemed like the first time in six years – and I went into my room. What happened next is something I am not proud of: I decided to take a whole packet of Panadol to just let everything go from me. I didn’t want to live anymore,” he tells, with his voice now almost inaudible.
“But the reason I didn’t do it is because of the sound I heard of my sister from the other room. I heard her talking to my mother about something, but just the voice that I heard made me feel that I wasn’t alone in this.
“Trust me: I had three whole strips of Panadol in my hands. And as I put them away, I felt a voice in my head assuring me that if I pray all will be well. I prayed to Allah like I had never done, and that was the day I walked into the rehabilitation centre in Al Masarra Hospital.”
Today, he remains clean and has switched from engineering to operating his own business: car washing. The entrepreneur can now look back at his life and heave a sigh of relief as to how he has turned his life around.
But many others aren’t that lucky.
A matter of concern
Oman has often been touted as the country in the GCC with the least number of suicides annually, but the numbers must be lowered further. In 2016, the country registered 25 suicides in total, down from 30 in 2015.
But a report published in the 1990s (as per the UAE daily The National) did find that one in five patients admitted for ingesting pills with the aim of committing suicide were female.
While the reasons for the suicides haven’t been revealed, Dr Amira believes that there isn’t enough data to pinpoint workplace depression as a major cause of suicides in Oman.
“Yes, suicides are a matter of concern for anyone undergoing depression, but I think there’s no way we can tell the reason as to why a person took his or her own life. A majority of people with depression and anxiety problems don’t seek medical help either.”
Needed: More clinics
This, however, sheds light on another prominent topic: The availability of qualified doctors and health facilities to treat those in need. Currently, the Al Masarra Hospital, Whispers of Serenity Clinic and Al Harub Medical Centre are among a few of the leading centres for mental health care in Oman.
As per WHO-AIMS (World Health Organisation- Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems), the “density of psychiatrists in and around the largest city (Muscat) is 2.42 times greater than the density of psychiatrists in the entire country”.
Dr Amira says: “We need to provide more facilities for behavioural consultation in Oman. We’re currently in the development phase of these facilities.We really need the human resources to conduct all these services too. So, in the coming years, you will be seeing more specialised doctors in Oman.
“At the end of the day, awareness is key and the number one way to tackle this issue. Community awareness will slowly bring to light these issues – and that’s how we can sort out this concern. We don’t want to see these numbers rising.”