‘Make mental health and wellbeing a priority’. Mental health should be treated on par with physical health.
MAKING SPACE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Not all disabilities are easily visible. Did you know that one in eight people lives with a mental disorder, while appearing physically healthy from the outside? Yet, these disorders can get in the way of everyday life and impact their work.
Here’s what you need to know about understanding and supporting a colleague with mental health issues.
Paying attention to mental health
Mental illness can, in some cases, be classified as a disability under South African law. This means that an employee suffering from a mental health problem should get the same support, understanding and protection as someone with a physical disability.
But, in the case of mental health, it can be more difficult to identify the disability. For example, disorganisation is a symptom of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), yet may look like carelessness from the outside. Similarly, someone who is often late to work may seem lazy, when in reality they are struggling with depression.
It’s important to understand and support an employee or colleague dealing with mental illness. Having social support will improve their outlook and ability to cope.
What are the signs?
Someone dealing with a mental health issue will feel its impact in day-to-day life. It can influence the way they think and act, as well as their emotional state. For example, someone with diagnosed ADHD will have a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. This is much more than getting bored in long meetings.
In a work environment, this could include frequent lateness, challenges with learning new things, poor organisation (like missing deadlines or meetings) and poor concentration. Hyperactivity can lead to erratic behaviour, while mood swings make maintaining relationships a challenge.
But there are many different types of mental health issues, all with a unique group of symptoms. The most common today are anxiety and depressive disorders – by some estimates these increased by more than 25% during the pandemic. Chances are someone at your workplace is taking strain because of them.
A supportive environment
While some symptoms might be visible in a colleague’s work performance, it can still be difficult to know when someone is struggling with a mental health problem. That’s why it’s crucial to create a work environment where colleagues can feel comfortable to share their mental health issues, if they want to.
This means, not only being supportive once you become aware of a colleague’s condition, but to make such behaviour part of the workplace culture. That way, someone who might otherwise be unwilling to open up about their condition can get the help and support they need early on.
This can be done through:
- Contributing to an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their struggles (a simple, heartfelt, “How are you?” once in a while can mean a lot to someone who needs it)
- Being aware of, and sharing any health support measures within the company
- Treating mental and physical health and disability as equally important
- Encouraging mental health awareness, for example, wearing a green ribbon on World Mental Health Day could open the door to conversation
- Creating a supportive environment, such as making and supporting reasonable adjustments for those struggling to meet work demands
Remember that, as with many long-term health conditions, people with mental health problems may need to make several, and long-term, changes to manage their illness. That means being there for them on an on-going basis.
Doing so will not only support those who need it most, but can improve your workplace morale as a whole – a win-win for everyone.
Your career coach
Want to know more about approaching the topic of mental health at work? Check out these resources:
- How to talk about your mental health challenges at work
- How to raise mental health awareness at the workplace
Remember there is support for you! To access these services call the dedicated EAP toll free line now!