Getting down to business: Understanding Mental Health
With mental health problems becoming a public health concern across the globe, #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek could come at no better time. It’s true, that those who suffer from mental health issues often face stigmas against them, but in today’s day and age, with the backing of a plethora of celebrities, mental health is finally becoming easier to talk about.
But that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. It is projected that, by 2030, mental health problems — in particular depression, will be the leading cause of mortality across the world. And with one in fifteen people having already made a suicide attempt, this statistic doesn’t come as a surprise.
And it’s not just the individual that is affected. Mental Health problems are costing Businesses up to £26 billion every year — with £2.4 billion being wasted on staff turnover due to poor mental wellbeing.
As mental health covers a variety of illnesses, 200 classified forms to be exact, we thought that for the sake of this post, it would be best to concentrate on the larger, more common illness: depression. With one in six people suffering from depression, it’s likely that one of your colleagues has suffered from this illness, or even worse, is suffering. So what can you do, as a colleague, as a manager, as a business owner, to help your teammate?
Understanding that depression — and all mental health problems for that matter — are complex and personal, is the first step that a manager, colleague or CEO can take in helping a teammate with their illness. Mental health problems can fluctuate as circumstances change, and may even require support and treatment for life.
From a medical point of view, depression is defined as a mood disorder which causes “a persistent feeling of sadness and a profound loss of interest in things that usually bring you joy.” Depression affects how you think, feel, and behave and at its worse, can interfere with your ability to carry out daily activities.
Depression really depends on the person who’s suffering. Sure there’s the familiar list of symptoms; joylessness, fatigue, burnout, emotional instability, anxiety, psychosomatic pains and so on, but there are also cases in which these symptoms don’t appear. The depression is not even acknowledged and is instead covered up. This is called latent depression.
But the other type; blatant depression — the one that’s more common and easier to treat, can be split into the following categories:
- Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder
- Chronic Depression or Persistent Depressive Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Atypical Depression
- Situational Depression
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
- Postpartum Depression
- Bipolar Disorder
Due to the stigma attached to depression, employees may not feel comfortable to admit their illness, or if they’re suffering from latent depression, might not even realise. But if uncharacteristic traits like timekeeping slipping, outbursts of anger and emotion, absences from work or just not looking after their appearance as they normally would, start to appear, you could use these as tell-tale signs of mental health illness.
Mental Health in the workplace
For the majority of us, work is a major part of our lives — after all, it’s where we spend much of our time, where we make friends, and where our income comes from. So when a work environment turns toxic, it can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to address Mental Health head on. Furthermore, organisations perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused — with all three increasing productivity by as much as 12%.
In its most severe form, depression can make daily activities, and even holding down a job near impossible. But 40% of employees feel too ashamed to disclose their depression to their employers, which can put companies at legal risk.
What most people don’t realise is, Mental Health — which includes depression, meets the definition of disability both in the Equality Act (2010), and the Disability Discrimination Act. Just as employers have a legal and moral responsibility to protect employees with a physical disability, those with mental disabilities must also be protected.
Employers often shy away from mental health because they don’t know how to address such a sensitive situation, but the truth of the matter is that it’s not a difficult task. Making sure that your company culture is inclusive, and allows employees to be themselves, will make it much easier for those suffering to reach out for help when they need it. Also, there are many resources available to organisations to help cope with such issues like mental health, with the NHS mindful employer initiative and access to work scheme being particularly helpful.
Supporting Mental Health
Supporting a colleague or an employee who has a mental health problem like depression is key in determining how well and how quickly they are able to get back to their peak performance. And this support doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s about helping them during their recovery and ensuring that their workplace is a safe and pleasant place to be.
You may need to offer daily support or perhaps even make long-term changes to their jobs in order to help them cope. Never just assume that everything is fine just because time has passed.
Managers and HR play a crucial role in supporting their staff during distressing times. A good practice for line managers is to suggest regular team meetings and casual one-on-one talks which will not only help you find areas in which your staff are struggling, but will also start a dialogue between manager and employee.
Offering supervision sessions where you can help manage their workload or even delegate work to other members of staff can be beneficial. However, it’s important that people are not treated differently or being micromanaged. Which, can not only be counter-productive but can also affect someone’s already damaged self-esteem.
As a manager, you’ll also be responsible for administering any absences — which can be expected if an employee is suffering from depression. But just because your employee isn’t in the office, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide support. Make early and appropriate contact so it’s less daunting when they return. Ask them if they need any reasonable adjustments to their workload or schedule: for example, reduced hours and remote working options. Remember — this is well within their rights, and refusing to help could be considered discriminatory behaviour.
If you don’t already have clear mental health policies in place — introduce them. It will help avoid any ambiguity and will help you record the mental health levels in the workplace — something that could be being affected by an organisation’s structure. Your policy should include a clear statement to display your commitment to helping this and will also make employees aware that the support network is there.
Solutions for Mental Health
If you have no mental health policies or solutions in place, then look at the following for quick-fix solutions:
If you’ve seen a drop in performance in your employee, keep an open mind during performance reviews, make sure to keep the conversation positive and constructive to avoid causing any unnecessary distress. Yes, poor performance must be addressed, but making simple adjustments to their role, offering training or a buddy system can be all the support an employee needs.
Creating an ongoing dialogue will make having difficult discussions that little bit easier. You can coach them on how to approach challenging work tasks or even just asking how they are will help keep a positive work culture. Make sure you also listen as much as you talk and remember, sensitive information about health should always remain confidential.
Encourage your staff to communicate without judgement, considering emotional triggers at all times. Ensure all staff are trained in issues relating to mental health so no employee experiences prejudice or discrimination in the workplace. Employees and managers should also never make issues in the team personnel.
Well being benefits
Instead of offering flashy and expensive company benefits, focus on wellbeing initiatives. Offer flexible hours or relax absence rules for those who are openly suffering from mental health.
Changing an office can be expensive — but it doesn’t have to be. If offices are busy, introduce dividing screens to make quieter spaces or allow employees to work from home every once in a while. If your office doesn’t have any functional windows, buy some plants that are known to improve air quality. Allow staff members to bring in their pets on agreed days (pets are great at improving moods).
Before hiring a potential employee, make sure that the interview states that reasonable adjustments will be made for disabled applicants, which includes any individual with mental health problems. Furthermore, there’s a chance that the candidate may have had time off or has not been through this process due to their mental health — so take these into consideration before counting it against the candidate.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience of depression and mental health is different and there may not even be tell-tale signs. That’s why a company culture where people can be open is so important. The best expert on a person’s needs is themselves, so never be afraid to ask or start the dialogue.
Although this may seem obvious to most, it’s vital to add that someone suffering from depression should not be cast aside. Standing by your employee will send a message to your organisation about your values and will be a key driver in employee retention.