I have come to realise over the past two years, since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, that many employers are talking about the importance of prioritizing employee mental wellbeing.  However, I have also realized that for many employers, any financial investment in this falls well down their priority ladder.  If there is anything left in the training or L&D budget after technical skills and other income generation boosting activities have been procured, perhaps then some training on matters pertaining to mental wellbeing and illness can be considered.

Many employers have services in place for employees to access as and when they require.  These are usually referred to as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs).  This is an employer’s way of ensuring that if an employee is struggling with anything in their work or personal life, they have access to someone they can talk to.  This is usually limited to only a few sessions and there is little in the way of choice when it comes to said “person”.  If an employee is suffering from a mental illness such as a depressive or anxiety disorder, they require much more than what the EAP can offer.

EAP is not the same as training and I believe that training for leaders at all levels in companies in the complexities of mental illness ought to be moved up the priority ladder.  Why do I say this?  Well, there are a number of compelling reasons:

  1. Mental illness is on a rapid increase globally with Depression being forecast to be in the top two leading causes of disability in the workplace in the near future, if indeed it’s not there already.
  2. Empathy is being considered one of the most important skills of the modern-day leader. This is the ability to imagine what it must be like to be someone else’s shoes without having had the same experience. 
  3. The stigma of mental illness remains alive and kicking. Only by gaining an understanding of these complex conditions can the stigma be reduced, and this process starts with leaders.
  4. Lack of understanding about mental illness leads to discrimination in the workplace, which quite simply, is not fair.
  5. Employees are sometimes forced out of companies because their leaders and employers don’t know how to manage them with reasonable job accommodation. This too, quite simply, is not fair.
  6. Faking of mental illness has also become a big problem in today’s world of job insecurity. This is something that can only be flagged with an understanding of what it really means to have one of these illnesses.

I could carry on with the above list, but in a nutshell, it’s my opinion that there are many, many more reasons to prioritise this type of training than to not.  It’s not good enough to put in place an EAP and think that this covers everything when it comes to mental illness.  Just ask your leaders this question:  “What does it mean to you when a team member reports to you that they have depression?”  And you can follow it up with:  “How do you think you can most effectively manage this employee at work?”  I suspect you will be met with many blank faces, long pauses, and finally a lot of guesswork.  Imagine if your leaders could identify the signs and understand them as part of a medical condition, not just as an employee dragging their feet.  Think of this in the same way as identifying hair loss as a sign of cancer treatment and imagine the benefits of meeting it with the same amount of empathy.  The benefits to you as the leader and to the employee.

We are living in a time of a great mental distress, and this was even before the Covid pandemic. Leaders in the business world can make a difference simply by understanding when someone in their team has moved along the continuum from having a bad day to clinical depression or from feeling a bit uptight to generalized anxiety disorder.  Do you want to make a difference?


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work




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