Career Corner: Let's discuss mental health
When we think about mental health and mental health issues, images of homelessness and tattered clothes often come to mind. Unfortunately, this image is true for some persons, but for many others, mental health issues take different forms like depression, stress and anxiety. Mental health in the workplace is a serious issue as it affects the well-being of employees, it can impact how colleagues interact with each other, and it can affect performance and overall productivity. In this month’s article I don’t attempt to suggest treatment for mental health conditions- my colleagues in the health care profession are better equipped to do so, but I will discuss how we can provide support for employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges.
Increase Awareness: There is (still) a lot of stigma surrounding mental health in our society and at the workplace-it is therefore important that we have more conversations about this topic and increase awareness surrounding mental health at work. By doing so, the culture surrounding mental health can change and the stigma can be reduced. In turn, employees will feel more comfortable to discuss their challenges, and to seek help if they need it.
Train Managers: A part of providing support for employees with mental health issues is to train managers on how to respond to the mental health needs of their employees. Although some managers would like to help when mental health issues arise- they don’t know how to help and don’t know what to do. Training should therefore be provided to equip managers with the skills to identify mental health issues and to support employees who struggle with mental health challenges.
Train Employees: Discuss mental health with your employees. Train employees on how to recognize mental illness in their colleagues, how to interact with and support colleagues who suffer from mental health issues, and how to recognize if they are also experiencing poor mental health themselves. Training should include knowing when to seek help and where help is available.
Access to resources: Employees should be provided with access to adequate resource personnel, such as a company doctor or a counselor who has been trained to respond to mental health needs. Ideally, access to medical personnel should form part of the organization’s health and wellness programme and the costs for these visits (or part thereof) should be covered by the company. As far as possible, employees should have direct access to make appointments with these resource personnel, without having to inform their Managers or the HR team.
Employee Well-being: Work-life balance is important in helping to maintain good health and overall wellbeing. To promote and maintain good mental health, employers should implement flexible workplace arrangements that facilitate adequate work life balance. Additionally, employees should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own health and to care for their mental state.
On the job performance: Poor on-the-job performance is sometimes a result of poor mental health. If an employee is not performing at the required level because of mental health issues, we must ensure that measures are put in place to support the employee to carry out his/her job function. In some instances, this could mean allowing the employee to work from home or allowing an employee to work in a quiet space away from other team members if noise and activity in the work area can be an emotional trigger. In other instances, supporting an employee may require extending deadlines on projects or adjusting workloads as appropriate.
Managing mental illness in the workplace can be a challenge. Unlike physical ailments which can be seen, mental illness is often silent and not easily identifiable. If employers make deliberate efforts to manage mental health however, both the organization and the employee benefits. It behooves us to support our employee’s overall wellbeing…mental health included.
Malaika T. Edwards, PhD is a Human Resources consultant and provides advisory services to individuals and business clients. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/malaika-edwards