Be ready to support employees’ recurrent mental health problems this Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019), says RedArc

  • In March 2019, a DWP employee with long-term depression was awarded £35k at employment tribunal after being denied the right to flexible working.

It is well-documented that big life events like divorce or redundancy can cause mental ill-health initially, but RedArc’s experience shows that being overwhelmed or undervalued at work can lead to a recurrence. The company explains that being valued and appreciated goes a long way in supporting good mental health but if the opposite is present in a workplace, then anxiety, depression and other mental health issues may relapse.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc nurses says: “Some employees are able to completely stay on top of previous mental ill-health but for many, it can be an everyday battle or can fluctuate from time to time. The initial trigger may have been a major event but additional workplace stress or unforeseen changes to a job, can cause the problem to return.

“It not only makes good business sense to look after employees with depression, but it also ensures compliance with legislation as the Department of Work & Pensions recently found out to its cost when a member of staff with long-term depression was denied the ability to work flexibly.”

Some of the workplace triggers that could cause such a relapse include:

·         being given an unexpected new project/new remit

·         a promotion/being overlooked for a promotion

·         change of location – either a desk move or to a different site altogether

·         additional responsibilities, such as managing a new team

·         being given a new line manager

·         being excluded from decisions or teams

·         long-term lack of gratitude from the employer

In fact, any change, especially unplanned or where the individual was not party to the change, could trigger a new episode.

New employees

RedArc warns that while most employers will be sympathetic if they know an individual has a history of mental ill-health, a new employee may not willingly reveal their past and so it can be difficult to plan ahead to manage the situation. For this very reason, if an employee’s mood deteriorates, an employer should respond effectively and provide early intervention, so problems do not fester and ultimately make an individual very unwell again.

Signs of mental health problems in employees:

·         Changes in behaviour

·         Increased absenteeism

·         Poor decision making

·         Lack of motivation and concentration

·         Increased smoking and drinking

·         Lack of interaction with colleagues and becoming isolated

Christine Husbands continued: “As mental health goes up the employer and insurer agenda, we are getting better at asking people to talk about their issues but it can be particularly hard for new members of staff to talk to a direct line manager about their past or the issues that led to the depression in the first place. Therefore employees often feel better if they can access confidential third-party support.”

NICE guidelines

NICE*, the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence spells out the gold standard for mental health treatment but due to the well-known pressures on the NHS, it can be hard to access. In addition, the guidelines favour cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is not effective in every case. Having access to a broader range of treatments that are specifically tailored to individual needs is usually more beneficial.

Christine Husbands said: “Mental health problems don’t always relapse but this Mental Health Awareness Week we’re asking employers to be vigilant that some staff may be battling ongoing depression or other types or mental health conditions on a daily basis

“Once an employee opens up, employers need to be able to quickly signpost employees to the right sort of help and make reasonable adjustments to their working practices depending on the individual’s changing circumstances.”

Access to support

There are a number of ways in which employers can offer access to such support, including directly with specialists, via group risk schemes, employee assistance programmes or private medical insurance. Employers should familiarise themselves with exactly what type of mental health support they offer employees and be confident that it will meet the needs of all staff by ensuring a clinical assessment and a wide range of therapies are both included.

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