There are many common types of mental ill health. The most common forms include anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.
People with these types of diagnosed mental health issues may be regarded as having a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act. As such, it is unlawful for you to treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason relating to their disability, without a justifiable reason.
Mental health issues - which may be mild, moderate or severe - can affect anyone, and are often associated with, or triggered by, work-related stress, relationship breakdowns, bereavement, other work or personal difficulties, or a combination of these things. For more information, see causes of personal stress.
Mental health issues are one of the most common factors in long-term sickness absence. However, many employees with these conditions may continue to work without displaying obvious symptoms. For example, an employee with a depressive illness may work quite normally, particularly once any medication, counselling or other therapies begin to work.
As with many stress-related conditions, warning signs could include irritability, tiredness, erratic timekeeping, neglecting appearance or personal hygiene, being quieter than usual or being reluctant to participate in meetings, social exchanges or events.
How you can help employees with mental ill health
As an employer, you can give special consideration to mental health issues by:
- keeping an open mind
- learning the facts about mental health disorders
- being flexible
- seeking expert advice and guidance
Your line managers' listening skills can be particularly useful for helping to manage mental health issues. You may wish to provide managers with specialist training in dealing with employees suffering from severe anxiety or depression.
If workers feel able to talk about their concerns, this should be encouraged.
You could arrange an informal meeting, perhaps over lunch or coffee, to find out what sort of support they may require.
Treat mental health in the same way as you would when dealing with other potentially sensitive issues at work. Workers may benefit from being asked open-ended questions which allow them to talk about what is happening and why, and being assured that all discussions are in confidence. It is important to remember that they may find it difficult to talk. You could arrange an alternative time and date to discuss the issue, and pose specific questions for them to consider and address when you meet again.
You can also help employees who are suffering from mental health problems by:
- enabling them to work flexible hours, so they can have time off if they need it, or during an especially difficult time
- making sure they can work in the most congenial space - this may mean enabling them to move their desk or work station to a place where they feel most comfortable and secure