October 21, 2013

HumaMy last blog post about disability disclosure and mental health has made me acutely aware that the written word is a powerful tool to raise awareness, provide a space for dialogue and connect with people.

I had a number more people come up to me since that blog post which I also published on my work intranet confiding that they had experienced the issues I outlined. This is particularly important because it helps to combat the sense of isolation which is a common feature for people experiencing mental ill-health.

One in four people will experience mental ill health in any given year. Let us pause and think about that statistic for a while.

This could range from a whole host of illnesses: from debilitating depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder amongst others. Many of these illnesses can be bought on by life events such as bereavement, the break-up of a relationship, workplace stress etc. In fact, it would be more accurate to call bouts of mental ill-health a natural response to life events, particularly when your emotional resilience is low. The workplace therefore plays a vital role in providing a supportive environment for staff experiencing these issues. To make this a reality an open dialogue must be positively encouraged.

Everyone has a role in fostering an environment enabling managers to have the confidence and the ability to speak to staff. A harmful intervention can be unsafe for a member of staff and may even trigger an adverse response, but neither is remaining silent always helpful. These additional points maybe useful to consider for managers:

  • You may have noticed a change in your employee’s behaviour such as increased levels of sickness absence, performance issues, lateness, frequent bouts of tears, lethargy, demotivated, uncommunicative with other members of the team
  • You may be aware that they have encountered workplace stress or experienced difficulties in their personal life.
  • Provide them with a safe and confidential space to speak.
  • Give them the opportunity to discuss any issues. You may want to provide them with open ended questions such as: "I have noticed you have not been yourself, is there anything you want to discuss?" or "Is there anything that can be done to make things easier for you right now?"
  • Don’t make assumptions. Due to the complexities surrounding mental ill-health, like other impairments, there is no ‘one size fits all’. For example, some people may need time off work; for others, continuing with the routine of work is a form of managing. When in doubt, ask. Understanding and opening up a dialogue can be extremely important for people experiencing mental distress.
  • Bear in mind, your member of staff may never have disclosed their symptoms before. If they do chose to speak, realise the courage it has taken.

Time for Change state: "mental health problems are common - but nearly nine out of ten people who experience them say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. This can be even worse than the symptoms themselves." Everyone has a responsibility in the workplace to combat this statistic so people can feel supported when speaking out.

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