How We Should Handle Mental Illness in the Workplace

man and women in meeting

Author: Dean Hunter

Published: 12th June 2018

As the stigma around mental illness is being broken down, we’re starting to see the scale of the widespread issue. Depression, anxiety and stress affect a lot of people and these problems can often affect performance and result in time off work. 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem, so it is vital that employers know how to deal with the sensitive issue and support staff in the best way possible.

It’s obvious that employees are more valuable to an organisation when they are happy and healthy, and are more likely to be motivated and prolific when they look after their mental health. However this isn’t the only reason why businesses should have an effective plan in place for supporting staff with mental health issues – a company’s attitude towards mental health can affect their culture and values and make employees feel like people rather than cogs in a machine. Showing you care is important, and putting a strategy in place isn’t difficult – here are some top tips.

Encourage conversation

It’s vital that employees feel able to talk about the mental health and wellbeing, so go about fostering a culture which is open and honest and encourages conversation. Most workers are afraid to disclose a mental health problem to managers, so make it clear to all staff that they will not be treated differently if they become ill. Mental health can change rapidly like physical health, and it’s better to offer support early on before the issue becomes more serious. If companies are able to open up the conversation earlier, they could prevent mental health issues such as stress getting in the way of work.

Individual support

With every mental health condition affecting people in different ways, there is no one-size-fits-all approach which is going to be effective for all employees. HR’s job is to ask staff how they can best support them through this difficult time, and create an action plan which can improve their ability to stay in work. For example, if a person is on medication which makes them drowsy then splitting up breaks throughout the day could help them manage their workload as they get more frequent rest periods. Flexible working could also help someone manage a mental health condition, especially if they have a lot going on in their personal life. Support can also be offered by allowing time off for appointments relating to mental health, such as counselling, therapy or yoga and meditation classes.

Promoting positive mental health

Strategies for best supporting staff with mental health issues should be part of an organisational wide scheme which promotes positive mental health and wellbeing. Putting more time and effort into employee wellbeing can reduce the chances of staff members suffering a mental health problem in the first place. Issues can be caused by problems in and out of the workplace, so HR needs to try and remove the possibility of workplace causes of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Employers can offer benefits which take care of staff’s physical and mental health such as cycle to work schemes, gym memberships and incentives such as spa days to promote relaxation. But there are plenty of things you can put in place which involve no investment at all, from open door policies to training managers on the telltale signs of poor mental health so intervention happens sooner rather than later.

If you’d like some help updating your HR policies we’re here to help businesses UK wide – get in contact today.