If we’re okay, why are mental health absences going up and up in organisations across the UK?

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Dealing with mental health issues effectively in the workplace is a complex issue, so opening the channels of communication is the crucial first step every business should take.

“Do you want to hurt yourself or anyone else?”

“Err no, I just want to stop feeling this way.”

An awkward silence. End of conversation. If talking to a helpline advisor is difficult, how are you going to tell your manager you have a mental health disorder?

Maybe you don’t need to tell anyone, but be aware the world of work does not stop because you are ill, and neither should you. If you can, make a stand and get your life back.

Mental health problems are bad for business

HR Magazine reported that 70 million working days are lost each year due to stress, depression and other mental health conditions, costing the UK economy between £70 and £100 billion a year. But if you are struggling with a mental health problem you probably don’t care about the economy.

Mental health initiatives may shine a light on this absence spike, and encourage organisations to tackle the stigma and discrimination against that towering bar chart of employees in attendance management reports.

However, unless there is an impact on productivity, engagement and profits, that message from the top may go unheard.

Be aware the world of work does not stop because you are ill, and neither should you.

The employee voice has to make a tangible link between organisational issues and mental health.

Workload, conflict, job design and lack of development opportunities can cause or exacerbate stress, depression and anxiety. Failure to address these triggers can slow down the corporate machine.

Do you want to talk about it?

Organisations often opt for wellbeing programmes, but people may feel too stressed to even notice the campaign posters, let alone attend a focus group. Even if they do, the disclaimer ‘not that I would know of course’ seems to punctuate the stilted conversation, pushing the taboo subject deeper into the shadows.

Everyone in the room may have a mental health problem, but their different conditions and symptoms can make it hard to empathise with each other.

You cannot leave your brain at home and come to work with your war face on.

The fear of what people may think can make that awkward conversation even harder. But if you need to share then do, as there can be physical and psychological benefits to getting a secret off your chest. Most people will not care. They just want you to get better and do your job.

If you have to take a leave of absence then your employer will tell you the deadline date for returning.

No one is untouchable

You cannot leave your brain at home and come to work with your war face on.

The dilemma is that some people with mental health problems battle on and stay in work, while others have lengthy or intermittent absences. This can make it difficult for organisations to take a consistent approach to handling this hidden disability.

Maybe the eggshell skull rule of 'take your victim as you find him' can be applied to the mental health conundrum, where even though someone looks normal on the outside, their thin skull cannot repel a mental health attack that most people could withstand.

But mental health disorders are a determined enemy and will look for weak spots in even the strongest of skulls.

Be resilient and fight back

Resilience is more than a buzz word; it is a must for modern living. However, it should not be confused with the machismo code of silence.

The dilemma is that some people with mental health problems battle on and stay in work, while others have lengthy or intermittent absences.

The reluctance to talk about emotions may actually result from the inability to do so, according to Adrian Furnham, the author of The Resilient Manager, who believes that resilience is about being in touch with your emotions and being able to talk about them, so you can get help when you need it and make good decisions.

If understanding in mental health increases, so will the expectation that people bounce back and get on with life.

To quote Sly Stallone’s Rocky in a metaphorical sense, “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”

About Paul Carter

Paul Carter, Insolvency Service

Paul Carter is an independent HR blogger and Senior HR Consultant who has worked in HR for six years after spending 10 years in communications and committee management. He is CIPD qualified and writes HR blogs to encourage debate on how to make the world of work a better place. He has studied journalism and screenwriting and is always interested in meeting new people and exploring new opportunities.

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By leti
26th Jul 2016 11:18

I have just shared this on Twitter using hashtag #ihaveamentalhealthdisorder
I live with Borderline Personality Disorder (emotional instability). At times i am floored by it just as anyone with a long term health issue is but i am learning every day how to manage better so that i am not just coping, hanging on by a slender thread, but flourishing. It does require understanding but don't we all?! I have emergency flashcards (stickmancommunications.co.uk) on hand for tricky situations and I check in with others i trust when necessary. Reduce the stigma by being prepared to start a conversation then get rid of it completely by recognising that we are all only human after all!

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to leti
26th Jul 2016 16:03

Thank you for sharing, Leti. Agree that the only way is to be more open and understanding with each other, only that way can we really succeed.

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