Mental health supports in the workplace, intended to offer support when issues are beginning to emerge, are beneficial for both the employee and the organisation. Addressing mental health issues early reduces the likelihood of severe deterioration of mental health and prolonged periods of absence.
It is estimated that 18.5% of individuals in Ireland will experience mental health issues in any given year. (2) Such figures highlight the need for workplace interventions aimed at early identification and encouraging support seeking behaviours. In this article, we will highlight the initiatives employed across organisations, intended to provide the tools to identify emerging mental health issues.
We will also discuss programmes intended to reduce stigma and the provision of resources for those experiencing mental health issues.
Mental Health Training for Managers
An increasingly popular initiative is to provide mental health training for people leaders. These programmes are well studied, with researchers determining such programmes can result in favourable effects on employee mental health and reduced absence rates. (3) (4)
In essence, these training programmes seek to equip leaders to:
Identify the signs of common mental health issues early
Understand the effects of mental health issues
Communicate in a supportive and empathetic manner
Encourage help-seeking from a healthcare professional
Discuss leave options or alternative working arrangements
Leave the door open for further discussions and maintain contact
We should also consider that people leaders attending mental health training sends a powerful message to employees. The organisation is demonstrating their understanding of the importance of such issues within their culture.
Mental Health First Aiders
These programmes are similar to mental health training for managers but without the administrative and policy knowledge related aspects.
While there is some uncertainty as to the overall effects of such programmes, outcomes appear to include, reduced stigma, increased confidence in offering aid, and increased likelihood of early identification. (5)
Mental Health First Aid Programmes typically seek to
Educate on causation and effects of mental health issues
Instil confidence to act as initial contact person
Equip attendees to offer initial support through effective listening
Encourage colleagues to seek professional guidance
Both forms of training courses should advise on the need for caution and to avoid overreach from the perspective of the contact person. The purpose of programme participation is not to equip trainees with treatment capabilities, but to identify emerging issues and offer initial support until treatment is received.
Resources and Signposting
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP’s) are increasingly common features of workplace wellbeing support offerings. EAP counselling services are confidential and typically involve short term treatment for psychological issues.
Should an organisation have availed of leadership mental health training or mental health first aid training, this is this service they could refer the colleague in distress too.
While the service comes at a cost to the employer, there is evidence to suggest it is a sound investment. The provision of an EAP service has been found to significantly reduce levels of absenteeism, potentially offsetting the cost of the service. (6)
Where an organisation offers an EAP, they should take effort to communicate the purpose of the services on offer and the confidential nature of the resource. Crucially, organisations must ensure that the service is clearly signposted.
Education and Stigma Reduction
Perceived stigma remains a significant barrier to the disclosure of mental health issues and treatment-seeking. This can result in issues going unnoticed until they severely interfere with daily functioning, as opposed to seeking treatment at an early stage. (7)
The severity and longevity of the issue can be reduced where early intervention is sought, and so reducing the associated stigma is beneficial for all parties.
As discussed, offering mental health training is one way to ensure employees know this is something that can be discussed in the organisation.
Other strategies to reduce stigma include:
Inviting mental health experts to speak to employees
Leadership role modelling, openly discussing mental health
Offering relevant resources through company communications
Offering employees opportunities to discuss their experiences
Marking mental health week in October with events and awareness campaigns
In Best Workplaces 21-22: 77% of employees agreed with the statement “This is a psychologically and emotionally healthy place to work.”
In Non-Best Workplaces: 55% of employees agreed with the statement “This is a psychologically and emotionally healthy place to work.”
We have argued that early identification is best for all, but this still requires a willingness for an individual to disclose their issues. If this is to occur, it will be because they trust their leaders or colleagues and know they will be treated fairly.