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12 December 2017 | By Tim Ladd and Jack McGowan Community

Mental health in the workplace: why everyone should care

What companies can do to prevent and deal with the rising absenteeism due to mental health

The rising absenteeism due to mental health can be prevented and dealt with if companies take the right approach. But through our experience of delving into the realms of workplace mental wellbeing we have been quite shocked at some of the statements and thought processes from top management on this topic.

One HR director, looking after over 2,000 employees, told us they simply don’t have mental health issues at their company. We thought this very strange: all the stats say 1 in 4 employees suffer from mental health issues so, statistically, it should be close to 500 people at this company alone. 

Although people can be ignorant of the fact they are suffering, there are clear barriers – namely fear of the consequences – preventing people speaking up. Apparently, 67 per cent of people would talk about their mental ill health to their family, 63 per cent would talk to their friends, 12 per cent would talk to their work colleague but only 3 per cent would to talk to their HR team. 

Anonymity is important – but it is also a difficult thing to achieve in-house. And all too often firms use Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or helplines dispensing advice as a tick-box exercise, rather than providing a caring, proactive solution that really helps.  

So what can companies do?

Prevention and intervention, as we all know, is better and easier to deal with than full-blown breakdowns. Training staff, regardless of the position they hold, is helpful in raising awareness and equipping them with the coping and communication skills they need to support a colleague.

Most companies have an on-site first aider for when an employee is physically hurt, so why wouldn’t you have a mental health first aider (MHFA) for when an employee is experiencing emotional distress? Just like a first aider, MHFAs are there to place on the plaster until the appropriate person can take over. They are trained to spot early signs of afflictions, gaining the confidence to approach people and ask that prying question: are you really okay?

And when they do identify a member of staff with an affliction, our experience suggests counselling with an appropriate person is the best course of action to take.

Counselling is something everything should experience at least once in their life, whether you think you need it or not. From a learning perspective you can genuinely see the good these sessions provide in rationalising thoughts within your own consciousness.

When it comes to mental health within the workplace, just going through the motions doesn’t work. And a referral to a GP or a helpline passes the buck if firms don’t take the time to consider the implications properly – for both the individual and the teams they work in.

Get it wrong and it leads to added pressures among team members, further anxiety, stress and resentment. As work goals are not reached, it eventually leads to dismissal, re-hiring and re-training, which is costly for both sides.

But with a mix of onsite preventative training, supportive colleagues as first aiders, appropriate treatment and aftercare on an anonymous basis working together with HR, Red Umbrella has seen results that have benefited both employers and employees.

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