Supporting Staff with Mental Health Issues

Author: Naimish Gohil

Posted: 10 May 2017

Estimated time to read: 5 mins

Me and my staff aren’t ones to shy away from talking about mental health - we’re all very much on the same page in that it needs to be spoken about and more can be done to address children’s mental health in school.

That being said, we tend to focus on mental health in terms of education - the students and teachers. I’ve never spoken from the point of view of a CEO, manager and colleague about how you should deal with mental health in the workplace, and how you can support your staff. In aid of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share some advice from my own experiences of supporting staff with mental health issues.

supporting staff with mental health issues

At some point in your life you will either experience a mental health issue yourself, or meet someone who is suffering from an illness. The bottom line is that mental health issues are common, we all have ‘mental health’, it just veers from good to bad for some people more often than others.

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some point in our life and currently 1 in 6 of us are working with a mental health issue such as anxiety, stress or depression. This means that as a manager, you are likely to come across an employee with mental health issues, and it’s not always obvious how you should act when this happens.

I’ve been in managerial positions for a while. Before I founded my own company, I was an Assistant Headteacher - part of a profession that’s renowned for the stress that comes along with it. It was revealed that the stress teachers are under is driving them to alcohol, prescription drugs and caffeine dependencies.

And now, I head up a company with over 75 employees. With this experience in mind, it may come to you as no surprise that members of my team have opened up to me about their mental health issues and we’ve worked together to accommodate their needs - providing support and making adjustments to their working day where necessary.

"What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illness that affect not only individuals, but their families as well"

- Glenn Close

First of all, I think that as a person in a senior position, it is your responsibility to know about the issues that may affect your staff and how to deal with them should they arise. For example, how you should deal with mental health issues, the death of a loved one or pregnancy. These are sensitive subjects and knowing how to deal with them is paramount to a leadership role - your staff are your number one priority and during these times they need to be supported. From my experience, I’ve found that one of the most important things you can do when dealing with staff with mental health issues is to communicate.

When you’re working with a mental health issue, it can be a lonely place. Despite us being more open to discussing mental health, there’s still a reluctance for those living with these issues to discuss them at work, when there shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to feel weak, maybe they think it will tarnish your view of them as a valued employee, or maybe it’s because they don’t think you will understand.

It’s possible that we’ll never fully understand the reason why people don’t want to discuss mental health at work if we’ve never experienced something similar ourselves, but what’s important is removing this stigma at work. By opening up a line of communication between you and your employees, you can work at putting your staff at ease.

Our Middle Managers have weekly one to one catch ups with members of their team - during this time they discuss what they’ll be working on, ask any questions or help they may need, but also, this one on one time acts as a safe space to bring up anything outside of work that may be bothering them. It also gives the manager the opportunity to address anything that may be of concern to them. As a manager, you know your employee better than anyone and may be more capable of figuring out if something is wrong based on their work output, how they’re interacting with colleagues and their motivation levels.

"It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it"

- Amelia Barr

We’re lucky enough to have an open office, the majority of our staff are friends outside of work. This works to our benefit as more often than not, people who may be experiencing mental health issues feel comfortable talking to someone about it.

However this may not be the case for every organisation, and when it isn’t, it is your responsibility as a manager to bring these issues up when you feel they are a concern. As uncomfortable as it may make you feel, it’s important to remember that your staff’s happiness and wellbeing should be your number one priority. When your staff are healthy and supported, they are happy and this is reflected in their work.

If you are dealing with an employee who is experiencing mental health issues it’s important that you work with them to find out how you can help. You will most likely have to make adjustments for them. Be that allowing them to take time out of their day if they need it, allowing them to have the option to work from home, moving desks or allowing them to have time off work to attend therapy sessions or doctors appointments. Remember that in these situations, how you act is reflective of your company and its values. Two of our values are warmth and integrity, and I expect all of my team to show these when facing situations like this.

Overall, I think the most important thing to remember when dealing with a colleague or team member who is experiencing a mental health issue is that there isn’t a quick fix. You need to be patient, supportive and empathetic and treat it as seriously as you would any physical ailment. The mind is complex and even if you have no prior experience with mental health illnesses before, take the time to research to try and understand what they are going through and never underestimate the power of simply listening to a person.Teacher Wellbeing Guide