Is There a Mental Health Elephant in The Room in Your Workplace?

January 28, 2019

The elephant in the room is a metaphorical phrase for an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss. It is important for employers to show that they care about the wellness of their employees and demonstrate that the workplace is a safe place to talk about mental health issues, without judgement and avoidance. This is down to a lack of guidance for managing mental health conditions and a lack of training for managers, it is important to take steps to support employees with appropriate actions and not ignore any issues.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and making reasonable adjustments for employees with mental health issues should be as equal as physical health. Employers should be able to support their employees to stay in work, when appropriate, and make suitable adjustments depending on the needs of the employee such as; support with workload, revised working hours, allowing absence for treatment or an option to work from home if needed.

Even though many of us are talking about mental illness more than ever before, work environments still feel like a scary place to open up. Research from the HSE show that in 2017/18 1.4 million working people are suffering from a work-related illness and 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Powerful stigma still exists around all mental health issues, problems still remain undealt with in the workplace and this needs to change.

Employees are not forced to declare any mental health issues to their employers, however, employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate staff illness, but they can only do so if they are aware of any conditions. Mental health is an issue we can’t afford to ignore and so many individuals find it difficult to talk about their problems and choose to battle them alone. It can be tough knowing how to support an employee in need and recognising the signs of mental illness is the first step. It is important that every manager knows how to start the conversation, ask the right questions and then actively listen to what is needed. Being able to listen, demonstrate compassion and show respect are all powerful things that will make a big difference, allowing to openly discuss the options and resources to support staff.

If you see a colleague or someone you know acting differently make sure to be there for them, it could make all the difference, even if you don’t know what to say but showing that you are willing to talk and listen is very important. Nobody expects you to have all the answers, you just need to show that you are there and that you care.

When life feels overwhelming, never be afraid to ask for help, there is absolutely no shame in doing so. Mental health may be invisible but it is real. If you are struggling, reach out and remember asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It’s helpful to share your concerns, so speak with your manager or a colleague, even speaking to a friend, family member or GP can help if you’re not quite ready to discuss your issues with your employer. The most important thing to remember is that, no matter what mental health issues you face, you only need to speak about things that you feel comfortable discussing.Help is available. If you feel worried about your mental health or are having negative thoughts, you should talk to someone. You can call your GP surgery and arrange to speak to someone immediately. They should be able to give you some advice about what to request from your employer. Or if you’re not ready to discuss any issues at work, you may be offered extra support including medication, helpful websites and support groups, if required.

If you don’t want to speak to someone face to face just yet, the Samaritans offer a free 24-hour telephone helpline - 116 123, offering a safe place for you to talk to someone any time you like, to help explore your options, understand your problems or just be there to listen.

We can all support good mental health and wellbeing with each other in the workplace, helping to end stigma and discrimination. Why not have an open mental health conversation with someone in your workplace today!

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