Why employees won’t ask for mental health support, and how employers can overcome that

April is Mental Health Awareness Month – and in recent years, there is far more awareness among employers around what the issues are and how employers can be a vital source of support.

However, it’s still concerning that even where there are provisions in place for improved mental health support, RedArc Nurses has discovered that some employees will still decline help altogether, or at best delay it.

Often, however, a good communication strategy can help.   Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says:

“We speak to people from all walks of life and from all backgrounds, and we’ve found that there are a significant number of concerns that employees may have.  Organisations need to address these in order for their mental health support to achieve its full potential.”

Typical employee concerns include:

  • Confidentiality – employees worry that if they share their concerns with a third party, be that an insurer, EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), or mental health worker, will eventually be shared with their employer’s HR department.
  • Privacy – staff are uneasy about making private phone calls within an office environment, for example to a GP or insurer.  They are also concerned that colleagues may find out if they have to attend appointments within office hours.
  • Promotions & Renumeration: employees fear that disclosing mental health issues could mean they are overlooked for future promotions or that disclosing health issues could impact on pay rises and bonuses which would cause financial stress as well as embarrassment and frustration.
  • Ability to perform: employees are concerned that their employer may deem them unsuitable to continue in their current role – especially if they are required to drive, carry firearms, use heavy machinery, or be particularly sensitive to others’ situations.
  • Split persona: Some employees perceive strongly that they should leave their problems at the office door and split off their home persona from their work persona.  Of course, stress at home or work will have an impact on the other area and most employers understand this.
  • Letting down family: Some employees wrongly believe that by acknowledging a mental health issue, they are letting down their family.
  • Cost: despite being told that mental health support is offered by their employer, some employees are suspicious that there will be associated costs further down the line – especially if private face-to-face support is recommended.
  • Seriousness of condition: Often employees believe they can’t access support unless they have extreme symptoms, and can also be worried about opening a can of worms.

Christine Husbands believes that employers have a duty to clearly communicate that these commonly held beliefs are incorrect, and that employees who raise mental health issues at work will receive compassion and support rather than judgement.  She concludes:

“It’s really important to remember that just because HR professionals and wellbeing experts are making lots of noise about breaking down the taboos of mental health, employees might not feel the same. Millennials may have grown up in a world where they often feel happier to talk about their feelings but the same doesn’t necessarily apply to other generations, different personalities or within specific industries.

“The communication of mental health support needs to not only say ‘we offer it and here’s how to access it’ but it also needs to address these very genuine concerns of real employees. Any mental health condition that is left to fester will ultimately take longer to heal which is then more challenging for both the employee and employer.

“We need to take a pro-active stance and tell employees that there should not be any fear around talking or acting upon mental health issues, and debunk some of these concerns and myths.”

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