A fundamental part of working for a nonprofit in South Africa is serving the community to help vulnerable people in need.

This can range from teaching skills, providing food, rehabilitating addicts, supporting victims of abuse, fostering orphaned children, presenting recreational activities, to name but a few.

Most of these services regularly expose nonprofit employees to traumatic and stressful situations, and the pandemic has worsened the social challenges that nonprofits have to deal with.

An overexposure to traumatic situations combined with mounting work and personal life stress can often lead to Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS).

It is, therefore, crucial that nonprofit organisations make the mental well-being of their employees a priority to ensure that they remain healthy and strong to serve their beneficiaries.

Vacare’s Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Lebogang Molapo, did some research to compile five top tips of how organisations can help their employees manage their mental health.

1. Educate and Normalise Mental Health

Leaders of organisations should make sure that all their employees are empowered with the correct knowledge about mental health and the potential trauma associated with working in the field.

Organisations should be proactive and show workers that they care about their well-being and health through promoting open conversations about the topic to normalise it in the workplace.

This can help reduce the stigma and silence of secondary traumatic stress and encourage workers to practise self-care and get the necessary help if needed.

2. Implement Support Structures

Identify approachable people in your organisation that team members can confide in if employees want to talk about their challenges, and who can then refer them to get the help that they need. This could be your HR Manager, Relationship Manager, line managers or someone who has a counselling or people management skills.

There should also be a safe space where employees can share their challenges confidentially and anonymously. Channels like NPOwer or Valcare’s complimentary psycho-social support services are good options if you can’t afford your own professional counselling services internally.

3. Recognise the Symptoms

Organisations should always be sympathetic and helpful towards employees who display symptoms of STS, and intervene when the warning signals arise, which include:

  • Hypervigilance or hopelessness
  • Inability to embrace complexity
  • Inability to listen
  • Avoidance of clients
  • Anger and cynicism
  • Sleeplessness
  • Fear
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Physical ailments or minimizing guilt

4. Understand the Impact on Work

Unchecked secondary trauma can be debilitating. When people ignore the signs of their own trauma, they may be prone to unnecessary suffering, which can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue. This often results in nonprofit professionals ending or changing their career.

The mental health effects of workers can also spill over to an organisation’s effectiveness and lead to output challenges, which include high staff turnover, increase in absenteeism, decrease in productivity and poor work quality.

5. Encourage Self Care Strategies

Although research suggests that you cannot avoid or prevent getting STS or PTSD 100%, there are steps that people can take to mitigate the effects.

Engage regularly in an activity that you find relaxing like:

  • Journaling to help put things into perspective
  • Regular exercise
  • Walking in nature
  • Drinking water
  • Meditation
  • Colouring
  • Connecting with friends and family
  • Getting good sleep
  • Having something to look forward to
  • Spending 15 minutes quality time per day only on yourself

Valcare Membership Psycho-Social Support Programme

To offer professional psycho-social support to nonprofit members, Valcare has partnered with Good Hope Psychological Services to offer complementary therapy sessions to those who don’t have access to support. If you are a Valcare member and would like to book a session with a professional counsellor, please send an email to courtney@estb.sg-host.com.

Article compiled by Lebogang Molapo; Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at Valcare.