Because mental illness affects people in very different ways, there is no one size fits all when it comes to supporting people at work.
As an employer myself overseeing a large team, there are a number of things I have done that anyone could do, which don’t cost anything. It could be something as simple as seating someone with anxiety, for example, in a quieter part of the office. Or it could be a little more flexibility about someone coming in later to avoid rush hour, and then working later.
At Rethink Mental Illness we also have a wellbeing plan that all employees have the chance to fill in, where they can outline ways to keep themselves well, highlight any triggers that may cause their mental health to deteriorate, and suggestions of what to do or who to call if they do become unwell. These are then shared with line managers, who can then make changes as necessary. It’s a simple thing that could easily be included in any induction pack, and if it’s made standard process, it can make it easier to start a conversation.
Training can also be really useful, and Rethink Metal Illness runs courses in things such as addressing negative attitudes to mental health, overcoming barriers to communication, and finding ways to manage difficult conversations. These courses aim to boost employers’ confidence when it comes to mental health, because often people mean well, but just aren’t equipped to deal with issues in the best way.
It’s about reasonable adjustments, but also about creating that open environment where people can talk about their mental health without fear of being judged. We know from the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign, run together with the charity Mind, that talking about mental health is still a problem. So if employers can create an environment where people can talk, that can make a huge difference.
Brian Dow is director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness