I am an employee. I am also a manager with responsibilities for a team of people. I am also someone who has battled with depression for many years. I wanted to write this blog to support employers to recognise the signs of mental health illnesses, and my hope is that it will help them to support other people.
My partner couldn't believe it when I said I was going to write this blog. Apart from anything else, I’m not an outgoing person and I've never wanted to be centre stage, but if in doing this, I can help one person disclose their depression and access the support they need, then I believe it is worthwhile.
The statistics tell us that one in four people will experience a mental health illness in their lifetime and yet three quarters of people will receive no treatment. The impact of this can be devastating. It can lead to relationship breakdowns. It can lead to extended periods of absence from work. It can lead to loss of employment altogether. Horrifically, it can lead to death. I don’t pretend to have all the answers about how we can make this situation better, but what I can do, is share with you some advice based on my own personal experience, that may help you to support an employee or a colleague to access the critical support that they need.
1. First up, If you are a manager, don’t be afraid to get to know your staff members. All too often we are told to keep our distance from the rest of the team to retain the hierarchy. I’m not saying you should all be hanging out all the time, but absolutely you should be asking them how they are, talking to them, understanding their personal situation and having informal conversations. Personally, I have found that my team work harder for me and respect me more because of this rapport. It also means that I know them well enough to identify if something isn't right.
2. Recognise behaviour patterns and respond to them. If a member of your team is unmotivated or particularly quiet, or on the other end of the spectrum, they are hyperactive or taking risks, don’t just assume this is normal behaviour for them. Dig a little deeper. Is this how they always are? Have you noticed a significant change? At what point did they start to act differently and are you aware of any reasons why this has happened? Whilst some people may be actively trying to mask a mental health condition because they are fearful of disclosure, others may not recognise that what they are experiencing is out of the norm. There are often tell tale signs in a person’s behaviour and mood and as someone who works with them closely, you are in a good position to identify these.
3. Be a confidant. Your team should be able to trust in you 100 percent. They should know that you are on their side and that they can talk to you. By creating a culture of trust, people are more likely to disclose what they are experiencing and this opens the door for you to help them access the support they need.
4. Always advise that they speak to a doctor. This might sound obvious but many people are afraid of disclosing symptoms to their GP. Maybe they are fearful that they will be prescribed a medication that they don’t want to take. Maybe they are worried that a judgement will be made about their suitability as a parent, carer or worker. Maybe they don't think they will be believed. As someone who has taken that step myself and talked to my GP about what I was experiencing, I can’t advocate it enough. They are trained professionals. They have access to support and services that can not only drastically improve life, it can save life.
5. Take practical steps to improve someone's working conditions. It may be that their mental health illness has been triggered by a shift pattern, a work-related pressure or even a difficulty with another member of staff. As their manager, there are plenty of ways that you can influence their experience in the workplace for the better. Listen to them to understand how you can help and then make the reasonable adjustments that you can, this in itself, could be enough to help them improve.
6 Be honest about your own experience. If you, like me, have had your own battles with mental health, don’t be afraid to tell your team this. You can lead by example and play a major role in creating an open, fair and supportive working environment. Since disclosing my own depression to my team, two colleagues have come forward and confided in me. I am now in a position to help them get the support they need and I believe this to be one of the most important roles I’ll perform as their manager.
Since disclosing his own mental health illness, Stephen signed up to Working Win. Supported by NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Work and Pensions; Working Win is a free trial testing a new type of support for people with mental and physical health conditions that are affecting their work or their ability to find a job. If you live in South Yorkshire or Bassetlaw, you can learn more and refer yourself to the trial today.
If, like Stephen, you are a manager or an employer and would like to find out more about supporting your staff; Working Win offers free training and guidance for health and wellbeing in the workplace. Detailed information about the Employer’s Support Service can be found here.