Of all the good and bad ways that social media has impacted our lives, one of the most powerful campaigns to see exposure and growth is acceptance for mental health issues. From inspirational memes that promote self-care, to supportive networks and groups that you can share with, there are plenty of online communities that can help us in our darkest hours.
One area, however, where mental health is still taboo is in the workplace. Even though there are clear cut rules, as well as social standards in place, many workers still don’t feel comfortable disclosing their diagnosis with their employer. However, being open about their symptoms and concerns are beneficial to the employee as well as you as their employer. This article explores why you should encourage your staff to share their mental health struggles with you.
WHY DOES AN EMPLOYER NEED TO SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES?
Let’s put aside any social and moral responsibility we have and focus on our legal obligations. Here in Ontario, mentalhealth and disability is mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights at Work act states: “Employers have a duty to accommodate the needs of people with mental health disabilities and addictions to the point of undue hardship.”
A case that is referred to often as an example of how the Ontario Divisional Court will uphold the rights of employeeswith mental illness is the Court’s decision in Lane v. ADGA Group Consultants. In 2008 the organization (located in Ottawa) hired Mr. Lane as a quality assurance analyst. Lane was fired after 8 days, because he requested accommodation for his mental illness. Losing his job caused Lane to slip into a fully manic state, leading to hospitalization for several days. The courts agreed that the employer showed disregard for Lane’s bipolar condition.
As an employer, a top priority should be avoiding encounters with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). Their decisions on human rights are public and if a case seems particularly interesting or relatable, they are often heavily publicised in the media. This leads to embarrassment and bad press for the employer (in addition to any fines or penalties the courts may feel applicable).
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF MENTAL ILLNESS
It should be noted that there are a variety of mental health conditions that have their own unique set of symptoms. Additionally, not all symptoms are experienced by all patients. However, there is sufficient evidence to show that employers should look out for:
- A depressive mood.
- Lack of interest in activities or interacting with others.
- Increased absenteeism.
- Irritability and increased anger.
A pre COVID-19 study regarding mental health in the workplace stated that 60% of workers reported experiencing one or more of those symptoms in the previous year (2018-2019). Since this study, we have seen the need for mental healthsupport increase dramatically over 2020 and 2021. We know that more people are seeking out help and treatment. So, with more workers than ever needing mental health support, businesses and managers especially need to get on board.
BENEFITS OF PRIORITIZING YOUR EMPLOYEES MENTAL HEALTH
A recent study involving over 4000 adults found that mental illness symptoms such as stress and anxiety are as debilitating as physical chronic illnesses such as arthritis. One major difference between a mental illness and a physical illness, is that you, as an employer, have the ability to significantly help your employee. Ensuring your staff is getting the support they need comes with many benefits to your organization:
With a mental illness it can be difficult to find motivation. Helping your employee when they need it will allow them to function and meet their full potential.
It’s surprising to many managers; finding out how many employees call in sick when they’re feeling too depressed. Reducing sick days saves the organization money and time.
Having better relationships with your employees, and creating an environment free of hostility is something everyone in the organization benefits from.