I know it’s a cliché, but prevention really is better than cure.  This is why many people go for annual medical screenings, such as for breast cancer, and also take prophylactic medication such as Malanil for malaria prevention.   I don’t have to tell you how much better it is to avoid getting breast cancer or malaria than it is to undergo the treatment once you have either of these conditions.  Indeed, once acquired, sometimes these conditions are untreatable, and the illness is terminal.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace, many employers are implementing the “cure” principle and are not considering prevention, or at least minimization of risk.  For example, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are put in place to assist employees when they already have a problem, not to contribute toward prevention.  This seems to allow employers to sleep easy at night with the perception that they have mental health covered in their organisastion – if an employee has a problem, they can access the EAP.  However, I am of the opinion that there is so much more that can be done in the workplace when it comes to employee mental health, and that comes before employees seeking help from an EAP.

Firstly, Leaders can learn to understand mental illness better, which will in turn enable them to demonstrate higher levels of empathy when they have a team member presenting with a mental health issue.  Not only that, they can also learn ways of accommodating the employee with a mental health issue so as to optimize their performance and engagement at work.  One of the obstacles that prevent employees from talking to their Manager when they have a mental health issue is that don’t think they will understand.  Even worse, they think that they may be completely dismissed and accused of being weak or lazy.  Ultimately, they may believe that disclosure could place them at risk of losing their job.

I am not suggesting that Leaders need to now become Clinical Psychologists, just that they could learn about the difference between feeling down and Clinical Depression.  Or what it actually means to have a substance use disorder.  Or what makes an anxiety disorder different to normal anxiety that is perpetuated by a pending exam, a big presentation at work, or sitting a driving test?  Or when and why is medication prescribed to treat a mental illness?

Secondly, entire organizations can embark on a destigmatisation programme.  When I say “entire organisations”, I mean exactly that – without senior management being involved to some extent, such programmes are unlikely to succeed.  Employees need to know that their senior management supports destigmatisation if they are going to speak up, and this goes for employees with as well as those without mental health issues.  When the stigma of mental illness is removed, employees feel more supported and therefore willing to talk about their challenges and be part of the accommodation process.  This is a win-win for everyone.

Bullying and harassment of people with mental illness is disgraceful and much of this happens due to ignorance and stigma on the part of the bullies and harassers.  It is my belief that in stigma-free workplaces, these acts of aggression can be greatly reduced.

And thirdly, ongoing workshopping for all employees on mental health matters will keep the topic in everyone’s minds.  This allows for more cohesive, harmonious, supportive and engaging workplaces. 

Greater understanding and awareness of mental illness together with reduced stigma is in my opinion what is needed in the workplace before the implementation of EAPs.  Although an employee’s mental illness may not arise from workplace related matters, a supportive work environment can go a long way to assisting them in their recovery.

As I’ve found myself saying frequently over the past two and a half years, a silver lining in the dark cloud of the Covid pandemic, is that mental health has been afforded a great deal more airtime.  Now it’s time to stop talking and start acting in ways to reduce the risk, aggravation and severity of mental health issues in your workforce.

Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work



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