6 Steps to Deal with Mental Illness in the Workplace


Mental health is one of the most sensitive and misunderstood subjects - this is especially true when it comes to the workplace. Many companies choose to ignore the issue of mental illness amongst its employees, but in this article we suggest six steps in how a business can deal with mental illness in the workplace and how they can proactively protect themselves and their employees.

Six steps to dealing with mental health in the workplace

It's rarely easy for employers to ascertain details of the mental health of their employees. By the same token, employees themselves are generally unwilling to approach their employer should they struggle with their own mental health - they're often concerned that doing so will make their employer see them in a different light, and perhaps block opportunities for future career advancement. It's not hard to see why so many people are less than candid when it comes to these matters.

Nevertheless, it's important to be aware that mental health problems affect a great many employees. Many workers become very adept at disguising them. The stigma attached to being honest, acknowledging mental health problems and seeking help remains considerable. Employers should therefore seize the initiative, and take steps to combat the problem in the workplace. Here are several key points for employers to consider.
Establish clear policies
1. Establish clear policies and procedures for dealing with employees' mental health problems. Mental health problems are far from uncommon, so it's important for employees to be prepared for them. Clear guidelines and processes in relation to mental health can help to deal with these issues in a far more effective way when they do arise. However, employers must take great care to ensure that they obtain explicit consent from the employee concerned rather than trying to impose anything on them against their will - taking the latter course can merely exacerbate the problem.
Be aware of the signs
2. Employers should actively promote awareness of mental health issues. While it's important to tread carefully where mental health problems are concerned, it's good for employers to openly acknowledge the importance of dealing with them. A culture of openness can go a long way to ensuring that any mental health problems which do arise are attended to sooner. Communication is crucial, and employees must feel that they can discuss their mental health with their employer without fear of suffering any negative repercussions.
One size doesn't fit all
3. Employers must be prepared to deal with individuals' specific needs. No two people experience mental health problems in the exact same way. One-size-fits-all solutions do not exist in this field; employers should therefore avoid trying to impose them. Employers must take the concerns of staff seriously, providing a sympathetic ear when it's most needed. Employees who are prepared to be open about their mental health difficulties should not be made to feel as if they're merely malingering.
Proper training
4. Senior members of staff should be trained properly in handling mental health issues. Management must be prepared to take swift, effective and sympathetic action when an employee reports mental health problems. Adequate training in this area can help to ensure that senior members of the team are properly equipped to do so. This can also play an essential role in promoting a culture of tolerance and openness in the workplace.
Promote awareness
5. Employers should watch out for signs of mental health problems. Although it's important to tread carefully and avoid being accusatory, employers should be prepared to step in when there are signs that an employee's mental health may be deteriorating. When an employer does instigate action with regard to a worker's mental wellbeing, it should take great care to do so in a considerate and sympathetic manner.
Know your legal obligations
6. Employers must familiarise themselves with their legal obligations in relation to employees' mental health. Employers which fail to detect employees' mental health problems and act accordingly may find themselves in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Employers have a legal obligation to make adjustments - within reason - to accommodate employees with mental illness, which is legally defined as a disability.

Mental health problems cost firms billions of pounds each year, adversely impacting productivity and morale. It's up to employers to ensure they take steps to deal with mental health issues adequately and fairly. By taking proactive steps like the ones listed above, employers and employees alike can reap the rewards.

If you are affected by any of these issues, or want to know how Simpson Millar LLP (formerly Colemans) can help your business with HR and employment law, contact us today on 0800 038 0754.

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