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Mental Health - An employer's plea

Dealing with mental health/anxiety – An employer’s plea

Matthew recently wrote an article on his experience of suffering with anxiety. He wrote passionately and eloquently about his experience and I applaud him for it. It’s a vital topic and one he clearly understands. Of course, I knew about Matthew’s issues with anxiety long before he published that article but given the engagement it received, I decided to write about it from my own perspective, both as an employer who wishes to offer appropriate understanding and support to my staff, and as a parent to a child affected by the condition. Ashleigh is going to write from her own perspective separately.

A caveat…

I’ve never suffered with mental health issues myself but I will say that my father committed suicide and I have close family members who have issues with their own mental health.

I may be on the outside looking in yes, but I’m doing so from a front-row seat.

Both Matthew and I regularly refer to me as a dinosaur in this modern world and whilst I am empathetic towards those who suffer with their mental health and understand the impact it can have, I was raised in a different era where things like anxiety and depression weren’t as widely understood and certainly not talked about. I for example, did not publicly acknowledge that my father had committed suicide for more than 20 years after the event; because of the stigma that surrounded it, I was more comfortable keeping it a secret.

That got me thinking, how many other older business owners and managers struggle to understand these issues?

That mental health issues, regardless of title, are just as debilitating and just as ‘real’ as physical illness, is of course incontrovertible. Considering some of the articles on mental health and culture fit published by Westray Recruitment Group recently, I’ve pragmatically considered our own approach to mental health and sincerely hope it can be of value during discussions in your business. Of course, any interaction surrounding the below should always be handled in the strictest of confidence.

· Matthew has written on the subject of culture fit in the past and I firmly believe that mental health should form part of that discussion, once there is sincere and serious interest from both parties during the hiring process. I’d implore anyone dealing with mental health issues to be up front with any prospective employer. The good ones won’t let it be a barrier to employment but, at the same time, you need to be given the chance to decide for yourself if an environment is commensurate with your mental health.

· Once you’re in the door, communicate. There’s nothing employers can do if you aren’t communicating any issues that could go from an annoying little niggle to truly debilitating if unchecked. If you notice an issue that might trigger anxiety or a panic attack, speak up before it gets worse. Matthew for example, can overthink virtually anything so if a situation arises that I feel he might dwell on, I make sure I discuss it with him asap to avoid any opportunity for him to overthink, which can lead to debilitating anxiety or panic attacks. That could be anything from a change in deadline, an increased workload or even just a monthly review. If a mental health or medication issue is suddenly divulged in response to a performance issue or review, it’s incredibly difficult not to be sceptical due to the timing of the disclosure. Communication is therefore key so that issues are managed effectively and empathetically. Aside from that, employers also need to be aware of any medication being taken so that in the event of an emergency involving you, emergency services can be made aware in the same way they would be of an allergy or religious belief.

· Keep an open mind. Just because a condition isn’t visible doesn’t make it any less debilitating. It’s no easier to ‘fake’ the need for a mental health day than it is to fake a sickness bug or the flu. Both are open to abuse and unfortunately, it happens. We can’t however, close our minds to the reality that some people do indeed suffer with their mental health any more than we can close our minds to the idea that a sickness bug is real. Trust therefore, is key.

I know that as an SME we do more than most to support our staff and have done so in various ways over the years but crucially, we can always do more. This is a vital issue, and one that relies entirely on open and honest communication at all levels of business. It is too reductive to place all of the responsibility on an employer or staff member. Both must work together to ensure an environment is commensurate with mental health and great work.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, good or bad. You can reach me on 0191 4926622.

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