Why men­tal health is a big taboo in work­place

Firms should be con­scious of their duty to staff who are strug­gling as one in seven peo­ple are fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, so­licit or writes

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - By Toni Fitzgerald-Gunn

Even with an em­pha­sis on rais­ing aware­ness and a move to­wards a more open di­a­logue about men­tal health in so­ci­ety, it can still, un­for­tu­nately, be seen as a taboo sub­ject that peo­ple may not feel com­fort­able talk­ing about, es­pe­cially with their em­ployer, who they feel may treat them dif­fer­ently due to this rev­e­la­tion.

UK em­ploy­ers are tak­ing steps to ad­dress men­tal health aware­ness in the work­place.

In a sur­vey un­der­taken of 202 UK em­ploy­ers by Deloitte this year, 36% of­fered coun­selling and sim­i­lar ser­vices to as­sist in tack­ling is­sues as and when they arise, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ees with the com­fort and se­cu­rity of an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss such is­sues in their place of work.

It has been re­ported that two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion at large ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal health prob­lems at some point in their lives, and one in al­most seven peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal health prob­lems in the work­place.

As such, em­ploy­ers should be con­scious of their duty to em­ploy­ees in such cir­cum­stances.

Along­side the statu­tory duty to safe­guard em­ploy­ees’ health and safety, there is a real prac­ti­cal need to ad­dress the is­sues sur­round­ing men­tal health.

Fig­ures pro­duced by the Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion con­firm that men­tal health is the lead­ing cause of sick­ness ab­sence, as 70 mil­lion work days are lost each year due to men­tal health prob­lems in the UK. It is there­fore in an em­ployer’s best in­ter­est to im­ple­ment strate­gies to ad­dress the is­sue of men­tal health and its con­se­quences on work­ing life.

An ini­tial step would be to un­der­stand men­tal health through train­ing staff, to help to dis­pel some of the myths sur­round­ing the topic.

An em­ployer can in­tro­duce a coun­selling ser­vice or helpline for staff, if they haven’t al­ready, and en­cour­age the use of positive, con­struc­tive lan­guage when speak­ing with staff.

Em­ploy­ers should foster a cul­ture of sup­port and open­ness, and review ab­sence man­age­ment poli­cies/pro­ce­dures to guar­an­tee keep­ing-in-touch ar­range­ments are ad­e­quate while an em­ployee is ab­sent.

An em­ployer can also con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of flex­i­ble work­ing and/or work­ing from home ar­range­ments.

The ul­ti­mate aim is to cre­ate a cul­ture of recog­ni­tion, and to re­duce the feel­ing of stig­ma­ti­sa­tion.

Em­ploy­ers should also recog­nise that any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to men­tal health is an em­ployee’s “sen­si­tive per­sonal data” and so data pro­tec­tion is of piv­otal im­por­tance, es­pe­cially in this post- GDPR cli­mate.

The Dis­abil­ity Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act 1995 (as amended) is also rel­e­vant to this is­sue. An in­di­vid­ual will be con­sid­ered dis­abled if “he has a phys­i­cal or men­tal im­pair­ment which has a sub­stan­tial and long-term ad­verse ef­fect on his abil­ity to carry out nor­mal dayto-day ac­tiv­i­ties”.

If an em­ployee’s men­tal health is­sues fall within this def­i­ni­tion, then they will be con­sid­ered as hav­ing a recog­nised dis­abil­ity, and an em­ployer is ob­li­gated to make rea­son­able ad­just­ments, when and where re­quired, fa­cil­i­tat­ing an em­ployee to con­tinue work­ing.

In an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple are en­cour­aged to talk openly about men­tal health is­sues, em­ploy­ers should be ac­tively con­sid­er­ing whether their work­place is equipped to ad­dress same and as­sist its em­ploy­ees as and when re­quired. Toni Fitzgerald-gunn is an as­so­ciate part­ner spe­cial­is­ing in em­ploy­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion law in Wor­thing­tons Com­mer­cial Solic­i­tors, Belfast. Toni can be con­tacted on 02890434015 or email toni@ wor­thing­ton­slaw.co.uk

Men­tal health is the lead­ing cause of ab­sence in the work­place

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