Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment, as catering staff or in an office based role, will be well aware of the mental health campaigns that are spewed out incessantly by HR.
For the most part these campaigns are useful and productive as they show support and awareness from the company and offer insight into well-being exercises, ‘food for the brain’ and various other activities designed to help with mental health. They are usually accompanied by slick advertising displays offering advice, posters, recipe cards and support boards. But mental health can cloak itself in a number of disguises, common and uncommon, and it’s usually missed by both employers and fellow workers.
Some common mental health conditions
Drug and alcohol abuse
Some Uncommon mental health conditions
Low self esteem
PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder)
Postnatal and perinatal depression
As shown in the above lists, the uncommon conditions far outweigh the more common and it is impossible for companies to know all the information about every condition, so when faced with an employee who is behaving uncharacteristically, they usually act with discipline, instead of finding the root of the problem. Having experienced this behaviour first-hand, with employees and also personally, it becomes extremely apparent that there is a major flaw in this system.
Initially it is very difficult for somebody to confide in a manager and tell them that they suffer from mental illness, and although the stigma has somewhat been diluted, it still exists. It can be frightening when faced with the prospect of having to inform your employer of your illness and fear of losing your job is most common, and with good reason.
In 2017 alone, more than 300,000 people lost their jobs due to long term mental health issues, a staggering fact I’m sure you will agree.
So, what exactly do I think companies can do to help?
LISTEN! Yes, listen.
When an employee is at breaking point there are usually two ways in which it ends. The employee will feel they are unable to continue working in that environment and go off on sick leave. This usually ends with them becoming part of the above statistic; long term sick leave followed by dismissal.
Or they will confide in their manager that they have a mental health issue. In this instance, 90% of the time, the manager will go into what I refer to as ‘corporate mode’. That is to say they will become a robot and follow protocol to the letter. The phrase “I have a mental illness” strikes fear into the heart of managers and supervisors everywhere and unless they have experienced it themselves or with somebody close to themselves, they have no idea how to react, apart from what they have read in a manual.
What is actually needed is a human being, an arm round the shoulder, a box of tissues and an attempt to understand. It takes a massive amount of trust for someone to open up about their condition, especially as they probably will feel they are handling it in their own way. When they do, the last thing they want is a telephone number to call and to have to start the process all over again, but that it what generally happens. I’m not expecting companies to train all their managers on every single mental health condition, in fact, I wouldn’t expect them to know anything at all about them.
What I do want to see is people listening. Show compassion, offer help, lend an ear, ask them what it is they suffer with and how you can help and then when you are alone again, research the illness briefly and see what you can do to help. Time and time again, a person is left by the wayside, rejected by the system because we don’t understand their needs and left, essentially, to rot alone. This could end in tragic circumstances, and all too often it does.
So, when your PR department wants to run a mental health day, week, or even month, then why not suggest to them that listening will help more than brain food, exercise or yoga. Why not suggest they have a room with calming influences, maybe a note pad where people can anonymously write down their condition and how they feel and how they want to proceed. Have an expert come into the workplace and make appointments to see people and talk in confidence, offer advice and recommendations. All these things and more can go a long way to helping us understand mental health issues and to deal with them in a kind and considerate manner.
Give them a try, but please, don’t just hand out a phone number and think your job is done. Take that extra step and go a little bit further.