Breaking silence: Hidden toll of incivility on mental health
For over a decade, Ghana’s psychologists have been passionately advocating the importance of mental health in all aspects of life, including our homes, schools and workplaces.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a "state of well-being in which the individual realises their own abilities, can cope with normal life stressors, can work productively, fruitfully, and is able to contribute to their community" (WHO, 2021).
These include emotional, psychological and social well-being, which directly impact an individual's cognition, perception and behaviour.
There are countless factors that can affect one's mental health, and one that is increasingly gaining attention is incivility – the act of being rude, disrespectful or discourteous, which undermines workplace norms of respect.
Despite its common occurrence, incivility is often overlooked or dismissed as insignificant or trivialised.
It is important to recognise the significant impact that incivility can have on mental health and well-being in our communities and take active steps to address and prevent it.
Have you ever considered the potential impact of incivility on someone's mental health?
Whether it takes the form of constant criticism, belittling, bullying, making demeaning and derogatory remarks, or addressing another employee in an unprofessional manner, incivility can leave individuals feeling angry, frustrated, humiliated and worthless.
Furthermore, it can result in increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
It is crucial that we develop a comprehensive understanding of the role of incivility in mental health, while considering the contexts of home, school and work.
The home is often considered a haven but incivility within the family or significant others can harm mental health.
Incivility can manifest in various forms, such as verbal abuse, neglect and emotional manipulation.
These behaviours create a toxic environment that leads to anxiety, depression and conduct disorder.
Research has shown that children who experience incivility at home are more likely to develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression (Sürücü, 2021).
Thus, children who experience incivility at home are more likely to develop mental health problems in adulthood.
Schools play a crucial role in shaping the future of our youth. Unfortunately, incivility within the school environment can have a negative impact on academic performance and emotional well-being.
It is important for all members of the school community, including peers, teachers and administrators, to prioritise kindness and respect to create a safe and supportive learning environment.
A study by Werner et al. (2019) indicates that students who experience incivility in the classroom often report increased stress, anxiety and reduced engagement with their studies.
This negatively affects their overall mental well-being, which can have long-term consequences.
Moreover, students who are victims of bullying or incivility may carry psychological scars into adulthood, leading to difficulties in forming healthy relationships and coping with stress.
Incivility in the workplace is a common but frequently overlooked issue in Ghana.
Uncivilised behaviours such as belittling, demeaning, spreading rumours or gossip, or unfair treatment can create a hostile work environment, leading to stress, burnout and diminished mental well-being among employees.
Research by Cortina et al. (2018) highlights that workplace incivility is linked to increased psychological distress, depression, reduced job satisfaction and engagement. Moreover, the long-term effects of workplace incivility can lead to absenteeism, decreased productivity, and even turnover intentions (Khan et al., 2021), which can further exacerbate an individual's mental health concerns.
The prevalence of incivility in these key environments has a significant impact on mental well-being.
As such, addressing this issue is of paramount importance in promoting improved mental health.
Considering this, a few strategies and recommendations have been proposed to improve the situation. These include:
• Creating awareness and educating individuals about the impact of incivility on mental well-being.
Educational institutions, workplaces, and families should prioritise teaching respectful communication and conflict resolution skills.
• Organisations and institutions should have clear policies against incivility and provide effective victim-reporting mechanisms. C
onsistent enforcement is necessary to establish a culture of respect.
• Schools and workplaces ought to offer mental health resources and support to those who are suffering from rudeness.
Early intervention can prevent long-term mental health issues.
• Encouraging empathy and emotional intelligence in children and adults can help foster understanding and reduce incivility in interpersonal relationships.
Recognising the impact of incivility on mental well-being in homes, schools and workplaces is the first step towards creating a more compassionate society.
By prioritising respectful communication, education and mental health support, we can build a community that values the well-being of its members.
Addressing incivility is not just an individual responsibility but a collective one that requires our unwavering commitment to promoting civility and respect in all aspects of our lives.
Together, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and for generations to come.
The writer is a lecturer,
Department of Business Administration and Communication Arts,
Academic City University College.