A major source of stress for employees with mental health issues at work is fear of judgement due to the stigma which still exists around mental health. October is Mental Health Month and the campaign promotes the importance of early intervention practices for positive mental health and wellbeing and aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
As a manager, you are in a unique position to promote positive mental health at work. Given the prevalence of mental health issues in Australia, it is likely that at any given time someone in your team will either be experiencing symptoms or vulnerable to developing symptoms.
There are so many ways in which you can actively reduce stigma and help a person in your team remain connected, stay productive and feel valued at work, whilst they experience mental health symptoms. One simple step that organisations can take is to nominate a mental health ambassador, someone within the team who can have peer-to-peer conversations with colleagues about mental health issues and encourage them to seek help.
Brightside, a leading provider of warranty services and insurance protection introduced the AccessEAP Ambassador Program as it aligned with their core company values of supporting each other in a non-judgemental way. “We identified team members who were passionate about mental health and making a positive impact on the mental wellbeing of our workplace,” said Tennille McCahon, Human Resource at Brightside. “We deliberately set up a committee of ambassadors who differ in age, position and gender and love that it provides staff with alternative people to speak to if they have questions or issues and don’t feel comfortable approaching HR or a manager.”
“The ambassador program has helped to demonstrate that we take mental health seriously,” added McCahon. “Our ambassadors meet regularly to discuss and implement mental health initiatives and to plan and promote key mental health events such as Mental Health Month. This new found level of openness within the organisation has certainly helped to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health.”
Here are some additional tips to assist in creating a safe and healthy environment for all of your employees:
1. Have a Conversation
If you notice behaviour in the workplace which concerns you, initiate a private, confidential and supportive discussion with the employee. Create a comfortable space where they will be able to have an honest conversation about what they are experiencing.
2. Respect Privacy
Ensure that any information an employee shares with you about mental health symptoms is not disclosed to anyone else without their consent. Even if the employee takes some sick leave due to mental health symptoms, they must be the one to decide what is said to their colleagues about their absence from work.
3. Make Adjustments and a Plan
If someone is experiencing mental health symptoms, don’t assume that they shouldn’t be at work. Work provides purpose and meaning and a sense of achievement. See if you can slightly adjust their tasks or working hours to help them remain at work. Involve them in the plan.
4. Use Non-judgemental Language and Stay Calm
Be aware and sensitive around the language that you use in regard to someone’s mental health. If someone feels judged about their mental health, this may stop them from getting help so try and keep your language supportive and positive. Lower your voice, listen and stay calm.
5. Focus on Strengths
People who live with mental health symptoms are and have the potential to be effective and productive members of their family, community, and workplace. Recognise your team members for what they contribute and the strengths they bring to their role at work.