3 Strategies For Handling Mental Illness in the Workplace

It is heartening to see that the stigma around mental illness is slowly reducing, both in workplaces and the broader community. Yet when it comes to identifying and monitoring mental illness at work, many employers are uncertain of the best mechanisms to use.

We understand that employers want to do the right thing by their employees, yet they can sometimes mistakenly see mental illness as a non-work issue. And with community knowledge still rather generalised when it comes to mental health, it can be quite a challenge to know where to start when it comes to providing relevant workplace assistance.

The mounting evidence

We are often asked – is mental illness really a problem for employers? As the Australian Human Rights Commission notes – not only will 45% of Australians be impacted by mental illness in their life, but around half of all workers’ compensation claims will involve a psychological injury. And Australian business loses some $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early mental wellness assistance to staff. So in short – yes. It pays to keep mental health a front-and-centre issue within every business!

In fact, there is every chance that a proportion of workers in every workplace is currently dealing with a mental illness – regardless of appearances. Without proper strategies in place to handle current and future mental health issues in the workplace, it is sadly inevitable that some employers will face considerable business challenges related to operations, costs and staff attrition.

Strategies for managing mental health

1. Audit your mental health resources 

The importance of a thorough and practical audit of your current workplace mental health resources can’t be overstated. The existence of formal HR policies on staff health, email bulletins about bullying, and provision of external counselling services might seem like a reasonable mix of strategies. 
However, while such standard mechanisms are certainly essential, each particular business might also need additional resources and initiatives to meet employees’ mental health requirements. For example, both a hospital emergency department and a high school might present considerable workplace stressors for workers – yet they will inevitably have unique needs in terms of resources needed. It is important to seek the services of a workplace audit professional, with current-day knowledge of mental illness risk management in varying business environments. 
2. Train for mental health 
Staff development aimed at the management of workplace mental illness must be multi-pronged. Those in upper-management can access high-quality courses designed to assist with understanding and appropriately supporting workers who are suffering mental illness. 
These can range from first-aid type training – to enable a ‘triage’ type approach to symptom manifestation in the workplace – through to more general education around the interplay between the modern workplace and mental health conditions. Depending upon business size, general staff must also be provided with ongoing training and awareness resource on workplace mental health. This includes the correct (and incorrect!) ways to approach a workmate who might be suffering from a mental illness. 
3. Develop a ‘mental wellness’ culture 
Good workplace culture around mental health must start at the top. It is next-to useless to develop resources for general staff if upper management seems disinterested in tackling mental health issues at work – or even worse, if they make ‘jokey’ comments on the subject. The astounding rise of work-related mental illness and associated compensation claims is at least partly attributable to some rather out-dated and incorrect assumptions made regarding mental illness among workers. 

Getting the expert know-how

We understand that knowing where to start with a ‘tune-up’ of workplace culture is more easily said than done. But with a good mental health snap-shot taken via professional audit, plus some up-to-date training on best-practice, a ‘healthy’ approach to mental illness in the workplace is certainly achievable. Add to this a well-structured program aimed at growing a culture of inclusion for those staff currently dealing with mental illness, and organisations will certainly be on the road to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

Content retrieved from: http://www.wiseworkplace.com.au/_blog/WISE_Blog/post/3-strategies-for-handling-mental-illness-in-the-workplace/.