Employers need to be mindful of mental illness

By Efrosini Costa

Employers need to be mindful of mental illness
Employers need more training on how to manage mental illness in the workplace after a report found a staggering 95 per cent of respondents don’t feel their workplace supports their mental wellbeing.

Almost half of all Australians will come into contact with mental illness in their lifetime, whether they are a sufferer from it themselves or know someone plagued by mental illness.

Research conducted by national mental health charity SANE found that mental illness is a major problem throughout the nation and places a burden not just on the health system but our economy as well  – costing us over $6.5 billion every year.

SANE Australia’s CEO, Jack Heath, believes one of the areas where more can be done to raise awareness of mental illness and how to cope is in the workplace:

“It’s important to promote awareness about mental illness and the factors that contribute to it, such as bullying and work stress. 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,” he said.

A recent survey conducted by the organisation, found that the majority of the more than 500 respondents had received no support at work when they were mentally unwell. Furthermore, the survey found almost 50 per cent felt their managers were ill-equipped to deal with a person suffering with mental illness.

“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 counselor. They should however have the skills to respond to any early signs of mental health problems in the workplace,” Mr Heath explained.

“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. We also need respect people’s privacy if they do not want to discuss personal issues,” he added, pointing out that while some people may require workplace support for a short period of time, others may require ongoing workplace strategies.

For this reason, SANE has launched its Mindful Employer initiative. The program offers both online and face-to-face support for employers and managers, providing them with the invaluable training and skills, to be able to better tackle mental illness in the workplace.

“While businesses can have the best intentions, if their employees don’t know how to respond, the end result can be confusing and counter productive. Mindful Employer training increases staff members’ confidence and ability to work with colleagues who are affected, directly or indirectly, by a mental health problem,” SANE said in a statement about their new initiative.

Here are SANE’s four steps to becoming a mindful employer:

1 Plan a meeting with the staff member – think about what you want to say and stay focused on work-related issues;

2 Set-up the meeting at an appropriate time and place, ensuring the employee feels comfortable and well-supported;

3 Express your concerns in a non-confronting and clear manner – it can be helpful to give examples of what you feel are concerning changes;

4 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



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