How to deal with staff mental health issues

Mental health issues have long been a taboo topic in the workplace and in general life.

Thanks to greater awareness, with celebrities and even Prince William speaking out about their experiences, the work of charities and the increasing acknowledgement of the problem at government level, the stigma associated with mental health issues has declined and understanding has grown.

A common issue
Indeed, with experts telling us one in four people will suffer significant mental health problems in their lifetime, this is an issue that many managers will be personally affected by, either through their own experience or that of close family members. Inevitably, it will be an issue for someone at work.

Knowing that the issue is likely to arise at times is one thing. The key issue is to find ways of dealing with it, as well as avoiding illegal discrimination.

After all, quite apart from the problems it will bring individuals, it could negatively affect their work and maybe even prompt people to leave. Also, be aware that the job itself may contribute to the problem, particularly if someone is suffering from stress.

Have a clear workplace policy in place
A key step you can take is to establish wellbeing policies as part of your HR handbook. Make it clear to all your staff that their mental health is a priority. This means that if people feel they have a problem they do not need to suffer in silence, but can talk to their line manager about it.

Some may fear doing this could make them vulnerable, perhaps damaging their career prospects due to the lingering stigma that surrounds mental health. For that reason, it is important to emphasise that full support will be given to anyone with an issue and that anything they disclose to a manager will be treated with confidentiality.

What you can – and can’t – do
It is important to note that it is not your job to act like an expert and treat the condition. If a situation is so serious it needs intervention that is the point where a health professional needs to be involved, so it is wise to give an affected staff member time off to make appointments, seek assessments and help.

Where a manager can act is by supporting those with difficulties. For instance, it makes sense to allow people to change their duties if they are finding one part of the job is contributing to a stress-related condition.

Also, the approach taken may depend on whether measures need to be in place permanently to deal with a chronic condition such as bipolar disorder, or a more temporary situation such as short-term stress or anxiety caused by a bad situation, either at work or in their personal life.

Look for signs of difficulty
Managers may also benefit from training to spot possible signs of mental health issues. A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found sufferers are more likely to have conflicts with colleagues and to struggle with concentration and juggling multiple tasks. If you observe this among staff, it may be wise to investigate whether there are underlying problems, rather than just a poor attitude or lack of competence.

By having robust policies for dealing with mental health issues, you may find our business is rewarded by increased commitment and loyalty among those who are treated with care and attention in their time of need, helping them to get through a difficult time or find ways to manage ongoing conditions.

Image courtesy of: iStock/marekuliasz