Despite progress in this area, there is no doubt that mental health is still a taboo subject. Many feel uncomfortable talking about it, acknowledging with it or dealing with it, especially in the workplace. Managers feel much more comfortable dealing with physical illness; they feel as though they know where they are, and know how to deal with it. There is also not the same perception that a physical illness will have a devastating effect on someone’s ability to work as there is with mental health concerns. Many employees conceal mental health concerns because they fear a negative, unsupportive or even discriminatory response, and sadly this worry does sometimes prove justified.
But mental health problems are widespread in the workplace, so it stands to reason that doing what you can to reduce the taboo makes business sense – doing so will reduce the likelihood of employees concealing mental health problems, and also help managers spot and even prevent them, enabling you to address any mental health concerns more effectively, and with the resulting positive impact on your absence rates, workforce performance, employee morale and also your public image as an employer.
But what practical steps can you take to reduce the taboo? Here are some ideas.
Talk about mental health. You could consider in-house training for staff, alternatively discussion groups can also be good, just getting employees talking about mental health and what it means in a “safe” environment. Make sure people know it’s an ok subject to talk about. Talk about mental health conditions not precluding anyone from being a valuable team member. Talk about the statistics. One in four of us will suffer from a mental heath problem at some point, and each year one in six British workers suffer from mental health issues. That’s a huge number, and the sheer numbers involved indicate that many people with mental health problems are clearly able to function successfully in their work.
Educate managers to recognise the signs of possible mental health problems. Educate managers about their legal obligations with regards to mental health conditions that may be disabilities. Educate staff about acceptable language to use in respect of mental health conditions. Educate managers how to reduce the likelihood of mental health conditions developing or being exacerbated as a result of working environments and to understand what steps they can take to avoid this. Educate managers about how to address mental health problems within their team when they do arise. Educate staff about different common mental health problems – pure lack of knowledge is a significant factor in a taboo.
Include mental health concerns and wellness in policies, procedures and initiatives you may have in place at work. These could include health and safety risk assessments, policies on equal opportunities, dignity at work, disability, stress management and sickness absence, and ensure any healthy living initiatives you may be involved in also include reference to mental wellbeing. The inclusion of mental health awareness in this way promotes it as being perfectly normal and something people need to be aware of in the same way as they are about physical conditions.
When a mental health problem presents itself, address it in a compassionate, constructive, inclusive and open-minded way. Treat each instance as an individual set of symptoms, don’t make assumptions or lump mental health problems together. Look carefully at adjustments to workload or working conditions in order to facilitate a successful return to work, just as you would for physical conditions. Keep in touch with mental health absentees (ideally in whichever way they prefer), and ensure there is no conscious or unconscious message sent about a mental health concern being unacceptable.
The brain is just another body part, so there is no reason for there to be a stigma around problems with it any more than there is around heart conditions or back problems. Taking steps to reduce the level of taboo around mental health in your business can only have a positive impact for staff and ultimately for your bottom line.
If you would like advice on how to deal with mental health in your business, do get in touch.