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Supporting staff with mental health issues

If you have an employee with a mental health condition, it can be difficult to know how to manage and support them through it. Here we look at how to spot the signs and help them through it.

A recent government report found that around 15 out of every 100 people at work have an existing mental health condition. But that same report found that where employers support their workers’ mental health more, the costs to both employers and the government went down.

Possible causes

Stress can be work related – if people feel they have lost control of their workload or work environment, it can induce stress. For some people, stress is triggered by a life event such as bereavement, family illness or divorce, whereas others might have a history of depression or an anxiety disorder.

Recognise the signs

It can be tricky to spot the warning signs, but if you’ve set up a business culture where employees feel able to talk about their mental health, you may well find people coming forward to talk to their line manager about it. ‘People can be very high-functioning while being stressed or depressed,’ says Portfolio HR Director Lynn Morrison.

‘It’s wrong to assume it looks a certain way. Some people are actually very proud of the fact that they can carry on despite what’s going on in their head.’

Prevention is better than cure

‘You can help someone who’s feeling stressed or becoming overwhelmed by personal issues by talking to them and persuading them to talk to their GP and get early intervention,’ Lynn continues. ‘By the time someone goes to a doctor, they’ll often have been feeling that way for months, thinking if they just rest at the weekend they’ll be alright. That’s the window the employer could watch out for and be supportive about.’

Give them space

Being able to work flexibly or from home might enable an employee experiencing mental health issues to keep work going. Altering their workload may help. ‘However, there may well be times when a normally hard-working individual who gives 110% can’t give anything more than zero,’ says Lynn. ‘As an employer, we have to recognise that at points of crisis, employees might need time off.’

How to manage time off

Creating fallback arrangements to cover and support a staff member going through a crisis can help them feel less guilty about taking time off work, as well as causing less stress and uncertainty for their colleagues. Bear in mind that it can be quite some time before they’re able to come back, which can create other challenges.

‘The longer people are away from work, the more difficult it is for them to come back, especially if you haven’t talked about it before they go off,’ says Lynn. She recommends contacting the employee before they are due back to work to say you look forward to having them back. ‘It can mean a lot,’ she adds.

Ease them back into work gently

There will almost certainly need to be a period of rehabilitation after someone’s been off for a while. ‘They might possibly be on medication that will have just started to work, so it’s just getting back into work and saying hello to people,’ Lynn explains. ‘If someone has suffered from anxiety, you may need to allow them to get back up to speed and build up to their full-time hours again over a few weeks.’

Recovery times can vary

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to recovery time. ‘Mental health is usually less predictable than a broken leg, which mends in a given period of time,’ says Lynn. ‘Recovery times are different depending on what the mental health issue is, and will vary from person to person.’

Lynn Morrison

Lynn Morrison, HR Director.

If you’d like to introduce better mental health practices and procedures in your workplace, People Puzzles can help. Contact us today or give us a call us on 0808 164 5826 or email hello@peoplepuzzles.co.uk.

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