Mental health and the workplace
Problems with mental health can occur in any individual, regardless of their job, gender, age or social background. For some, this may be a mild and temporary experience while for others it may be more severe or long-term. Importantly, only 1 in 100 people experience the more severe conditions while the vast majority of problems are manageable with treatment by a GP or counsellor.
So why are we so reluctant to talk about an issue that affects so many of us?
A survey carried out for See Change, the national stigma reduction partnership, found that 57% believed that being open about a mental health problem at work would have a negative impact on their job and career prospects, while 47% believed it would affect their relationships with colleagues. As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognised and untreated — not only damaging an individual’s health and career, but also reducing productivity at work. Companies have become more aware of the need to put the right supports in place to promote wellbeing.
Early and consistent efforts by employers to acknowledge and support their employees can go a long way towards building a culture that is conducive to a healthy workplace. This is in everyone’s interest.
Employers have a key role to play. There are a number of key signs that can help alert you to a colleague experiencing difficulties, including changes in a person’s usual behaviour, poor performance, tiredness, increased absence, previously punctual employees turning up late, noticeable increase in alcohol consumption or smoking, and tearfulness, among other things. It might be the case that certain tasks, work environments or times of the day are associated with people experiencing difficulty. Similarly, if an individual is having frequent short bursts of sickness absence with a variety of reasons such as stress, back pain or no reason, there may be an underlying, if transitory, mental health problem that should be discussed.
How can you help?
Communication is essential. If you’re a manager, this can be done naturally through normal work sessions, appraisals, return to work (following absence) interviews or informal chats which offer an opportunity to discuss any difficulties the employee may be having. At all times, in the language used and the attention given, individuals should be treated with respect. Managers should remember that their behaviour will act as a model for the wider work team.
The use of open questions, such as ‘How are you doing at the moment?’ or ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ can help the employee express any concerns they may be experiencing. Often employees who have experienced stress, anxiety or depression in the workplace need a platform to vent their emotions.
At times, empathy may be all that is needed. However, where there are serious underlying problems, the best approach is to refer them to someone trained to provide appropriate support. Some people with mental health problems require minimal support, while others need more. Dealing with mental health can be a challenging period of time for employee and employer alike but the employee can be helped immensely through the support and assistance of their employer.
Source: Dr Kara McGann – Ibec