Why workplace mental health discussion can still be difficult

The phrase mental health is a term used to describe things such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Someone suffering from a mental health issue may choose to leave work or seek support to stay in their job. An employer should expect to find that at any time nearly 1 in 6 of their staff is affected by a mental health condition.

Deciding what to inform their employer and colleagues about their mental health presents a tricky problem for the worker. They have to assess how much information to tell and who to tell it to. The main thing to remember is that it is an employee’s choice, and they can disclose as much information as they choose to. If they discuss it with their manager, then requesting a one- to- one meeting is the best option. Employees often feel they are unable to speak up on issues whilst managers are often ill-equipped to spot the warning signs or approach the situation.

Informing your employer about your mental health condition may be a useful step in that it allows the employer to make adjustments to the employee’s working conditions. The Equality Act that it is an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, so as to ensure that they have the same access to everything that involves gaining or keeping employment in the same way a non-disabled person does. A person is defined by the Act as being disabled if they have a mental or physical impairment that has a long-term (i.e. 12 months or more) effect on their day to day life.

In the case of the best practice argument, evidence has shown that work has a positive effect on a person’s mental well-being and that for someone with a mental health issue, it can aid recovery. Also, the world of work should be something that is accessible for all- just because someone suffers because they have a mental health issue does not mean that they are lacking skills in other areas. From an organization’s point of view, good HR mental health services that are pro-actively managing their employees’ mental and physical health can benefit the organization, for example, the reduction of sickness absence and reduction of staff turnover. Adjusting the environment to allow the employee to stay in work helps the company save on recruitment costs. Also, most adjustments cost very little.

Practical examples of workplace adjustments include taking a flexible approach to start/ finish times and shift patterns, allowing someone support to prioritize their work and providing a buddy or mentor. Adjustments should be tailored to the specific needs of the individual and should be flexible, as some cases of mental illness may come in episodes. It is also important to make sure the employee feels they are in a supportive atmosphere.

In some situations, mental health issues can cause a worker to take time off work. During the employee’s recovery, they may need to return to work with the remainder of their mental health issues. In this scenario, the worker needs to speak to their manager in order to manage this return effectively. Mental health in the workplace is a difficult issue but if it is dealt with in a sensitive manner then hopefully a situation can be reached that best suits the employee and employer.