When a colleague at work turns up with a plaster cast or plastic surgical boot they are usually greeted with sympathy and sometimes banter but adjustments are made to make them comfortable and able to do their job as well as possible. This is not always so, when a colleague is diagnosed with a significant mental illness like Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD), Bi polar, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Depression. I have even heard people laughingly describe themselves as having a Bi Polar or OCD ‘day’ thus minimising, even ridiculing the intensely damaging effects such conditions have on people who experience them.
Many people I meet in my consulting room tell me that you have to experience the condition to know how devastating, isolating and all-pervading it can be. As an empathic, emotionally aware therapist I can see, hear and feel their pain as well as respect their opinion. Judicious questions elucidate feelings of fear, distress, embarrassment, confusion and uncertainty, often resulting in withdrawal from family, friends and colleagues. Therapeutic and drug interventions can take some time to ‘kick in’ leaving the employee ‘in limbo’ and further isolating them from work.
Recently, there has been significant enthusiasm to train managers as ‘champions’ to understand these various mental ill health conditions – an approach which is welcomed by the mental health charities and medical practitioners. Hopefully this will encourage managers and colleagues to take an enlightened approach to supporting their co-worker through knowledge, understanding and generosity of spirit.
The workplace is fast paced, dynamic, aggressive and target focused but mental illness can happen to anyone – be they the CEO or the administrator. Clear statements of intent, which are seen to be adhered to (not just given lip service), can help to bring confidence to those who experience mental ill health. Managers can also feel confident, knowing they have support and flexibility from the organisation to ensure their valued colleague is supported in a manner that will encourage a return to good health. The phrase “work is good for you” has never been more true than for people with mental ill health. Reasonable adjustments can allow them to regain confidence in themselves and acceptance from their colleagues.
This topic is being covered at the Health@Work Summit in June this year which I am Chairing and am looking forward to immensely.
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