Mental Health is big news. No longer swept under society’s plush carpet, it has been discussed in the House of Lords, across global media and perhaps most importantly, in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 recognises certain mental health problems such as depression and long-term anxiety as disabilities and therefore there is a legal duty of care employers must ensure that their organisations provide.
In 2017 Theresa May commissioned a report to investigate the effects of mental health in the workplace. The ‘Thriving At Work Report’ authored by Mind chief executive, Paul Farmer and the mental health campaigner and a former HBOS chair, Dennis Stevenson found that 15% of the UK working population showed signs of a mental health condition, and the number of people forced to cease working due to their mental health was 50% higher than those with a physical disability or illness1 . With these figures in mind, there’s no doubt that employers should be facilitating a support structure for employees suffering from mental health issues, both for the benefits of staff wellbeing but also the company bottom line.
Dr Vince Gradillas, Consultant Psychiatrist at BREVIN comments:
“Research suggests that being employed at the start of treatment improves the chances of completing treatment successfully, with further evidence that employment can moderate relapse. Work can increase financial independence, engender responsibility, boost confidence and self-esteem and provide meaningful activity. So, it’s important that employers are aware of issues around mental health and addiction, and are prepared to support employees throughout recovery.”
He suggests several effective ways in which employers can recognise signs of mental health problems amongst their team, and how to support employees through treatment.
Do not be fooled by the generalisation that mental health issues are only rife in certain professions such as banking or media, as they can affect anyone, in any career. Whilst people often become adept at hiding certain patterns of behaviour in the workplace, it’s important that employers invest in some training or education so that they can spot the first signs of a problem, such as enrolling on a reputable Mental Health First Aid Course.
The indication of a psychological problem will vary amongst individuals, but could include a frequent lack of time-keeping; difficulties concentrating and completing tasks, displaying mood or behavioural changes and avoiding colleagues in social situations where before the individual may have been more likely to engage in. Physical symptoms may include tremors, weight loss, extreme tiredness, lack of care in their appearance and slow or laboured speech.
Employees are often afraid to come forward and talk to others in the workplace – whether a colleague, line-manager or HR department about their mental health for fear of the consequences.
As a business owner, there is the likelihood that at some point, one or more of your employees will struggle with a mental health issue, with mixed anxiety and depression being the most common diagnosis (7.8 out of 100 people2). This not only has a personal impact but also causes higher rates of absenteeism, reductions in productivity and job performance and workplace accidents. Being equipped with the skills to approach and help employees throughout their recovery process is essential for any manager or HR professional within a business environment.
When speaking to an employee about mental health, it is vital that the language used reflects a level of understanding and empathy, and you avoid at all costs inferring that their condition is a moral failing or character flaw.
Discreet communication and a level of trust will help to build a strong foundation for your employee to be open about their feelings and struggles. The more you understand about different mental health conditions and are able to talk to your employee sensitively and accurately, the more likely you are to reduce stigma around mental health problems and encourage the employee to seek help.
One approach growing in popularity is for mental health treatment to be delivered safely and effectively in a familiar home environment. Having an expert treatment in a safe sanctuary – a place that’s comfortable and private, somewhere the patient feels totally at ease is often where the best chance of recovery is possible.
If people are to balance work and recovery, removing the stresses of attending appointments, negotiating taking time off with managers and so on can be extremely beneficial to the recovery process. Treatment at home - which can also require the support of the wider family, is a powerful and personal approach that can facilitate the recovery process.
In all communications with employees, it is fundamental that you re-iterate that their privacy and confidentiality will be honoured and that you will keep communications open to supporting employees throughout their recovery.