Monday, 28 January 2013
Jobsite and Treacletiger: together for better mental health awareness
We were recently asked by Jobsite's Mervyn Dinnen to write a piece around the incredible blog that kicked off the @HRforMH movement we've mentioned before. The original piece was hosted by Alison Chisnell on her HRJuggler blog, and it's well worth making time to read.
We were proud to be able to contribute to this growing debate and hope you find our thoughts helpful.
Here's our article online, and below for those who are click-averse!
A couple of weeks ago HR Blogger (and HR Director) Alison Chisnell shared on her site a heartfelt and startlingly honest piece about mental illness by an anonymous writer. This created quite a stir within the HR and L&D communities, with the overwhelming response being one of positivity and gratitude to Alison for bringing the issue to the fore.
Over the two weeks since that first post there have been a number of further posts from members of the community and a commitment to take more action to put this topic firmly on to the HR and business agenda, particularly as it relates to the workplace.
We asked Niki Rosenbaum, founding partner of HR and Wellbeing consultancy Treacletiger, to explain more about what employers can do…
“Consequent discussions (following the sharing of the original post) have highlighted the fact that often it is not a mental health issue itself that creates concern for employers, but not knowing what to do about it. Employers I’ve worked with have confessed to a lack of understanding which has either led them to make a knee-jerk decision over how to handle matters, or stymied their efforts to ‘do the right thing’.
There are varying causes of mental illness, including outside influences (social, environmental, economic and political), bereavement and so on. While these can create a ‘shift’ in behaviour and so affect an employee’s performance, they must be viewed differently from chemical imbalances causing inherent behaviour changes. ‘Situational’ or ‘responsive’ depression to a traumatic life event or stress should be viewed very differently to a diagnosed condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (both of which can be managed very successfully with the right combination of support and appropriate medication.)
Mental ill-health is a sensitive subject, and frightening for many – including those experiencing it. They may not tell their employer about it if they feel it will damage their standing, prospects for promotion or new challenges. Likewise, it doesn’t mean they’re hiding something. They may not realise or want to recognise that they’re in the grip of something more than a ‘blip.’
So what can you do? Firstly, there should be no such thing as a ‘Mental Health Policy.’ A generic, blanket approach can’t be relied upon due to the complexity and variety of issues; tailored support for individuals and targeted training for managers will help develop a better understanding than any ‘policy’ that kicks in should an employee share information about their mental wellbeing.
Work harder on developing communication. Don’t be afraid. With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some form of mental ill-health at some stage in our lives, it’s essential this is high on the agenda. It can also add clarity and create a space for people to open up without fear or judgment.
It’s OK to share. Over the years, it’s astonished me how many feel the need to share their story to help others, and how many are able to take something positive from their experiences and use it to strengthen their character and resolve.
Get the facts and challenge misconceptions. If we hope to defeat the stigma around this, we must challenge and cease using negative language such as “loony” and “ga-ga”. Someone who’s depressed because of a relationship breakdown or death of a loved one will not recognise themselves or their pain in this kind of abuse. We must also be cautious of treating people as if they’re made of spun glass: there’s nothing to be gained in assuming everyone who’s depressed is automatically suicidal and ‘nannying’ them to the point where they cannot breathe. Don’t smother them or ignore the issue. Yes, it is a balancing act, but where the wellbeing of others is concerned, it usually is.
Get good information. Organisations such as Mind have launched campaigns to encourage open communication and tackle the stigma around mental health. Talk to experts – there are people within the HR and recruitment fields who specialise in this. But most of all, talk to your employees.
People who have faced mental ill-health or disturbance don’t have two heads, half a brain or thick skin. They are not immediately obvious to you, somehow ‘changed’ or less capable, or impervious to negative attitudes and language. They’re still who they were- they just have something happening to them right now. Don’t react like they’re suddenly a stranger. Be mindful not to shut them out because you don’t understand.
As the writer of the original blog says- “Please remember that I live amongst you.”
Niki Rosenbaum set up Treacletiger in 2011 with her partner Steve McGrane to offer practical, effective HR, mediation and workplace wellbeing support to small to medium-sized businesses. They have worked to promote better understanding of mental wellbeing at work for many years.
If you would like to know more about the issue of mental health in the workplace visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources – and also check out the ‘time to change’ pledge