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Don't hide your mental health problem at work

Category: Pro-Opinion

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Mandy Rutter says hiding mental health at work wont help anyone.

Never tell your boss if you have a mental health problem, advised comedian Ruby Wax in The Times newspaper recently.

An offhand comment like this wouldn’t normally have much of an impact, but Ruby is now the most visible campaigner in the UK around mental health and the stigma that is associated with it.

She’s travelling around the country with her road show visiting mental health clinics and has just been appointed to a professorship in mental health nursing.

The kind of advice will do nothing to change workplace attitudes, it’ll only make things worse. And that’s because the issue of mental health at work isn’t about the rare cases of severe mental illness like schizophrenia.

It’s about the one in four of us who are affected by common concerns like stress, periods of anxiety and depression, and who sometimes struggle with concentration and self-esteem.

What we need is more openness and more understanding in the workplace, not more deception. We need to build a strong culture of trust for staff and managers to feel they can start genuine conversations about well-being.

Culture change means starting at the top, with the execs and directors. HR can engage them to deliver clear statements about how mental health should be approached in their organisation.

Focus groups, supported by senior managers, can open up two-way conversations, highlight current attitudes and explore how much desire and knowledge there is for change.

Training can raise the confidence of managers so that talking about it isn’t just an awkward situation that’s best avoided.

Culture change will not be achieved by sending a few employees on a mental health first aid course. Those employees who do have some training and awareness can usefully act as facilitators or champions within the organisation so there is local support for day-to-day situations.

Ruby Wax is, however, making a serious point about the private attitudes of managers and how they can sometimes differ from the official line, how equality legislation can’t stop employers from finding ways to push staff to one side if there are doubts about their performance.

If an employee discloses a mental health issue and finds themselves or their role downgraded in any way, then the psychological contract with the employer is broken. Then all those unspoken agreements about effort and positive attitudes to work will need to be renegotiated, potentially limiting relationships and souring the spirit of everyday working. The real issue for employers is about the balance between being supportive on mental health problems while also considering performance.

If an employee discussed a mental health issue, have they thought about the impact it has on their work, are they being realistic about what that actually means in terms of their ability to do the role? Can they expect their boss to just come up with a solution?

Mental health can be a topic of open discussion in the workplaces, provided that both managers and employees take their full responsibility to gain knowledge, use the relevant professionals and understand their roles to work together to find mutually appropriate solutions.

VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email info@vercida.com for more information.

We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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