What Could Go Wrong: Mental Health

Mental health concerns in the workplace are nothing new, but are finally gaining mainstream attention. With work-related mental health incidents continuing to rise in the workplace, organisations are now faced with the task of not only preventing these concerns from occurring, but also guiding their employees who may face similar circumstances.

Esports, along with nearly every other industry in today’s market, is currently facing their fair share of mental health issues. In the third stage of the Overwatch League this year, Dallas Fuel player Timo “Taimou” Kettunen tweeted out that “a very bad panic attack kept me awake until 6am”. Hours later, it was reported by Overwatch Wire that Taimou was hospitalised. In the same stage, the owner of Dallas Fuel also had to address a leave of absence taken by another player, Hwang “Effect” Hyeon, with an understanding it taken due to mental health concerns. We will then see Effect not participate in the remainder of the stage. Though both players will make a return to the game (Taimou participated in the rest of Stage 3, 4 and the Overwatch World Cup while Effect announced that he will be returning for Season 2), these are unfortunate circumstances that can hopefully be avoided in the future.

In the workplace today, mental health concerns are forefront of mind. A recent study by the NHS showed that one in every three sick notes handed out by GPs are now for mental health issues. There are numerous statistics that are out there, however, one of the more staggering statistics show 92% of serious work-related mental disorder claims are attributed to work-related mental stress. This is almost a one-to-one correlation between mental health concerns and the individual’s employment environment.

If the impact of mental health has not been contextualised properly, then it should be exemplified economically. According to research by the British Government, since 2009, the number of working days lost to mental health concerns (eg. stress, depression and anxiety) has increased by 24% and the number lost to “serious mental illness” has doubled. Moreover, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), work-related stress costs employers around 3.7 billion pounds a year.

“a very bad panic attack kept me awake until 6am” – Taimou (Dallas Fuel)

With all the studies being done on mental health in the workplace, a general consensus can be made that the main sources of mental health concerns are work overload, uncertainty, lack of management support and lack of role clarity. At least a couple of these factors are very relevant to esports, particularly work overload and lack of management support.

With esports entering the foray of professionalism with corporate and commercial aspirations, organisations are now faced with the intersecting pressures of operating as an organisation while balancing the enjoyment and fun that is intended for in video games. However, to maintain professionalism and operational excellence, regulations must always be current and adhering to best practice. With that responsibility, the mental well-being and health of each of their players and employees have to be taken more seriously to improve organisational maturity.

Below are three aspects that organisations should focus on from a regulatory and organisational perspective. These areas have risks, or ‘what could go wrongs’, necessitating a healthy balance of preventive controls (used to deter or prevent undesirable events from happening) like policies, and detective controls (used to detect attempts of undesirable acts) like check-ups and audits and reviews.

First Step – Policy Creation

An important component in designing policies revolves around privacy; including the disclosure of information and personal confidentiality; with employees understanding their rights, whether that is pertinent to privacy or mental health services that are referred to or provided by the organisation.

Looking further into privacy, owners of the NBA recently requested full disclosure of players’ mental records. On one hand, it makes sense as this helps organisations obtain the full picture of a player’s mental health, allowing them the benefit of subscribing appropriate and ample help – much like with physical health and applying appropriate rehab. However, what happens when this leads to discrimination or stigmatisation in the workplace?

Accordingly, the importance of understanding employee rights cannot be understated. More often than not, employees maintain the right to choose between keeping their mental health records private or providing them to the parent company. The ‘what could go wrong’ here remains around stigmatisation and discrimination; however, a well-designed and thought-out policy can act as a preventive control against this risk.

Safeguarding and Services

Mental health can take different forms and levels of severity. Having safeguards and services for mental health concerns is especially vital for organisations who owe a duty of care to their employees and players.

In an esports league, including mandatory requirements for safeguards, services or even protocols for handling mental health concerns to be included in policies and procedures will provide beneficial for the organisation and its employees.

Having safeguards for mental illness treatment is important as organisations will, if not already, encounter these scenarios. Safeguards act as strict criteria that have to be met before specific treatment or actions are provided to the employee. Upon satisfying the criteria, a strict set of protocols for handling the situation is also imperative. There is encouraging news; sport leagues worldwide have taken a first step in promoting mental health services and safeguards. The NBA for example, has league-initiated mental health and wellness programs through their player-ran union; while esports organisations like Team Liquid and TSM have hired their own team psychologist.

‘What could go wrong’ in this situation is straightforward: players’ mental distress can lead to performance and mental well-being concerns, however, with preventive and detective controls like mental health services that are available and proactively communicated to the players, along with appropriate safeguards such as periodic check-ups will help mitigate the magnitude and likelihood of these ‘what could go wrongs’ from eventuating.


Education / Cultural change

Education and cultural change is the way of enforcing the aforementioned controls. Having policies, services and safeguards are important but futile without knowledge and education.

Education in the NBA in player drive, with major players sharing their personal mental health stories – Kevin Love, Demar DeRozan and Jahlil Okafor. Additionally,  mental well-being seminars or programs are run by the organisations and/or leagues.

There has been encouraging signs, with various industries promoting mental well-being like universities offering mindfulness units, to aforementioned efforts by the league and teams, to even the government offering mental health programs targeted at their employees and otherwise.

Organisation-wide education, along with buy-in from management will help organisations change their culture around mental health and well-being.

These three areas are critical for organisations to explore when considering mental health. With a good balance of preventive and detective controls, such as policies consisting of the right controls, along with detective controls, like periodic check-ups, it would be interesting to deliberate if situations like Taimou’s and Effect’s could have been avoided. Regardless, with an effective control environment, organisations are better placed in achieving their operating goals and objectives, in turn, protecting organisational culture and well-being.

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