6 Steps to Improve Mental Health Understanding in the Office

Niamh O'Byrne / May 8, 2017

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The stigma around mental health issues may be decreasing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable to find a job–or even keep one–while disclosing issues. In fact, many employees end up hiding mental health concerns out of fear that they will be labelled “unstable” or “unreliable.” With increased awareness about mental health and a movement toward removing the negative stigma associated with mental conditions, many workplaces are stepping up to make changes to their policies. Improving mental health awareness in your office begins with these six key steps.

Increase awareness

Training sessions for all employees, particularly those in management positions or those who could potentially need to work directly with employees with mental illnesses, can make it easier for everyone to communicate, build rapport, and react appropriately to situations involving mental health. Topics should include a basic understanding of mental health problems like depression and anxiety as well as the fact that chemical problems, not personalities, are to blame for most mental health concerns.

Provide tools for support

The biggest surprise for many, when dealing with employees with mental health issues, is the fact that they aren’t expected to “fix” them. Instead, it’s necessary to provide tools to support those employees much like the tools provided to other employees with disabilities. With the right support, many employees suffering from mental health concerns can go on to become highly productive individuals who are able to accomplish great things for the company. This does, however, require support and understanding–and the right tools can make all the difference. This might include, for example, offering a private office or other distraction-reducing tools for individuals with attention problems or providing a more flexible work schedule for employees with depression or anxiety concerns. Written instructions, not verbal ones, may prove to be the only accommodation an individual with memory problems needs while removing environmental triggers like smells can solve many problems for individuals who have panic attacks.

Create a mental health policy for your business or organisation

See Change has put together a great sample mental health policy that will help you establish clear guidelines for your business. Keep in mind that your mental health policy needs to include information about:

  • Avoiding discrimination due to mental illness
  • How to establish mental illness and what criteria are required
  • How to create accommodations for employees with mental illnesses

Remember that each individual is different. Like employees with physical disabilities, unique accommodations will be required based on the individual’s skills and strengths. A flexible policy will make it easier to meet the needs of every employee.

Encourage a healthy work/life balance

Employees who have a poor work/life balance are more likely to show signs of depression, anxiety, and instability. Promoting mental health at work includes preventing hours from climbing too high, encouraging and supporting life events outside the workplace, and creating policies that do not penalise employees for taking accrued vacation time. Life outside the office can have a significant impact on life within it, so supporting employees in their everyday lives is critical.

Recognise signs of stress

Alongside mental health awareness training, managers and supervisors throughout your business should receive training in recognising signs and symptoms of stress in employees. Learning to alleviate that stress will help make healthier, more productive employees who are better prepared to give their full attention to their jobs. Some common signs of stress include:

  • Acting consistently tired
  • Irritability
  • An increase in the need to take sick leave, particularly in an employee who has not previously been ill on a regular basis
  • Sudden difficulty completing regular work tasks
  • Indecisiveness or insecurity

Create a culture of openness

Mental health concerns or stresses can appear without warning. In many cases, current employees will hide or minimise those concerns in an effort to prevent discrimination. On top of worrying about the condition itself or the things that have led to it, they’re also concerned that they’ll lose their job or be labelled incompetent as a result. Encouraging a culture of openness throughout the office instead will enable employees to open up about mental health concerns, from admitting when they’ve taken on too heavy a workload or have been working too many hours in an effort to keep up to sharing mental health concerns with their supervisors.

Supporting mental health in your office is a critical part of maintaining a safe, healthy environment for all of your employees. By creating an environment where employees are encouraged to thrive regardless of mental health concerns, you’ll find that you have happier, more productive employees who are firmly committed to your organisation. Taking these steps to support mental health will help reshape your company in a highly positive way.

How can I support the Campaign?

  • Visit the Green Ribbon website to learn how you can support the campaign. There are many useful social media toolkits and posters, conversation packs to get you started and Green Ribbon order forms for workplaces and communities.

The annual Green Ribbon Campaign is brought to you by SeeChange and supported by the HSE (National Office for Suicide Prevention), The Department of HealthSt John of God Hospital and St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

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