Managing Mental Illness in the Workplace - Report
6 February 2013 at 2:25 pm
Employers and managers need education and training on mental illness in the workplace, according to the results of a new study by national mental health charity, SANE Australia.
The research found that 95 per cent of respondents said employers and managers needed education on mental illness, and training on how to manage its effects in the workplace.
SANE Australia’s chief executive Jack Heath said that the question of how managers tackle the issue of mental illness at work is a “major problem” throughout Australia.
Heath said that it affects many people and costs the economy over $6.5 billion every year.
“As the recent Report Card of the National Mental Health Commission highlighted, more is required to assist people once they are working,” Heath said.
According to the Commission’s Chair, Professor Allan Fels, employers have a role in raising awareness of mental health and treating it with the same understanding and openness as physical health.
A recent survey by SANE Australia found that a majority of the 520 participants said that no support had been provided to them at work when mentally unwell, and less than half of managers (43 per cent) had an understanding of mental illness.
“It’s important to promote awareness about mental illness and the factors that contribute to it, such as bullying and work stress,” Heath said.
“Managers need to take the initiative and raise the topic of mental health in a routine team meeting, to ensure a neutral, open and non-stigmatising forum.
“We need to understand it’s not a supervisor’s role to diagnose a mental illness nor should a supervisor be expected to be a counsellor. They should however have the skills to respond to any early signs of mental health problems in the workplace.”
SANE Australia says that managers or supervisors who notice concerning changes in an employee’s work or interactions with other staff, should discuss such changes with them.
SANE Australia's Mindful Employer program offers these four steps for managers in dealing with these issues:
- Plan a meeting with the staff member – think about what you want to say and stay focused on work-related issues;
- Set-up the meeting at an appropriate time and place, ensuring the employee feels comfortable and well-supported;
- Express your concerns in a non-confronting and clear manner – it can be helpful to give examples of what you feel are concerning changes;
- Offer support if required, including an employee assistance program (EAP) and how can it assist, suggest your employee visit their GP or discuss possible workplace adjustments.
“People may have numerous reasons why their work performance is being affected at a particular time, including physical illness or relationship concerns – not necessarily mental illness,” Heath said.
“We also need to respect people’s privacy if they do not want to discuss personal issues.
“We should remember too that many people manage their mental illnesses without affecting their work; some may require workplace supports for a short period of time, while others may require ongoing workplace strategies.”