World Mental Health Day
Last week, on 10th October, it was World Mental Health Day. The designation of this day each year, is to raise the profile of mental health issues by educating, raising awareness and advocating against social stigma.
For a long time, having a mental health issue has been seen as a big taboo and whilst this is slowly changing within our wider society, at work, it remains a largely hidden matter or something which people are embarrassed to admit to. Moreover, most employers are still grasping to understand, support and lead on these issues.
Yet mental health issues are widespread and look set to increase as we continue to grasp with the realities of our ever-changing personal and business lives. Although some mental health issues are long-standing conditions, the harsh reality is that a combination of factors could impact upon any one of us and we could all find ourselves struggling in this area. Therefore should we not try to better understand and support those who are facing these problems?
The difficulty though is that these types of issues are not usually straightforward in causation, their symptoms can be complex, the impact on work performance can vary hugely and some illnesses can be episodic, where symptoms may come and go. Some conditions are also likely to amount to a disability and others may not.
Most of us will know someone who has or has had a mental health issue and may have been able to support them in our personal lives. However, what happens when it is your colleague, someone you manage or even your own boss who you believe has a problem or who discloses a condition to you? What about the pressure to deliver services, often in an agile and lean manner?
What should you do for the best?
The first step should always be to try to provide confidential support and to acknowledge the bravery of the employee to open up to you. The actual solutions you propose will depend on their condition and background but some common pointers would be to find ways to gain more information and to sign-post the employee for specialist help. As employers, we are not generally experts in mental health issues and we should not try to be but we can listen, direct and provide information. Can you refer the individual for counselling, to occupational health or to a specialist support group? Is there any information their doctor could provide? Are there any adjustments which you might be able to make to their duties or hours at work? Is there anything new you could try? Does the employee have any ideas?
On a wider basis, can you encourage employees to seek early intervention and disclosure? Can you implement training to raise awareness and to better educate all employees in this area? There will still be occasions, when matters become more serious and/or the condition longer-term is not compatible with the demands of the job, but this should normally be the last consideration by one or both parties, when all other more informed routes have been exhausted.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Wendy Meiklejohn.