How should you support a colleagues who's been diagnosed with a mental health illness?
For the last year I have been running Mental Health Awareness courses for Symposium Events around the UK and have met very interesting delegates who want to understand this topic to help support colleagues, reduce absenteeism and create a positive attitude in the workplace.
Few people have a problem telling colleagues they have been diagnosed with diabetes or hearing difficulties or a back problem – however, many struggle with the fact that they have been diagnosed with a mental health illness (panic attacks, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia…).
No challenge that faces human beings should be unmentionable because if it’s mentionable it’s manageable.
According to the Mental Health Foundation in 2014, 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness including anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions. This means mental illness is the leading cause of sickness and absence from work.
In life in England, The Mental Health Foundation research indicated that women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. In 2013, over 6,230 suicides were recorded in the UK for people aged 15 and older; of these, 78% were male and 22% were female .
These statistics are both interesting and shocking and should galvanise HR, managers and colleagues to learn more about mental health conditions and relevant awareness and support. Mental ill health can affect any of us during our passage through life however there are many myths and misconceptions which are worth debunking.
The charities Mind and Rethink have joined in an anti-stigma campaign and a very helpful website – Time to Change with the following information:
- Myth 1: Mental health problems are very rare.
FACT: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
- Myth 2: People with mental illness aren’t able to work.
FACT: We probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem.
- Myth 3: Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty, it’s nothing.
FACT: 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem.
- Myth 4: People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable.
FACT: People with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence.
- Myth 5: People with mental health problems don’t experience discrimination.
FACT: 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination.
- Myth 6: It’s easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.
FACT: Nearly 3 in 4 young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems.
The Equality Act 2010 covers the adverse and long term effects of both physical and mental ill health, thus recognising the above facts.
The key factor to support organisations in taking positive steps is to destigmatise mental ill health through Mental Health Awareness knowledge for managers at all levels. It is important to understand how to initiate conversations during a crisis and back-to-work interviews. Here, the skill of the manager to employ a non-judgemental approach and listen carefully allowing their colleague to explain their needs and preferred strategy with peers, will dictate how successful reintegration occurs.
I am therefore making a plea to HR, Occupational Health, Managers and their colleagues to help debunk the above myths and commit to learning more about mental ill health as well as how to achieve the elusive quality of resilience.
Ann McCracken will be chairing the Health @ Work Summit 2016 on 12 May. Understand more about mental health issues as well as happiness, wellbeing and productivity at work. Book your place now.
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