Mental health in the workplace


Sir: It has been estimated that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their life time.

Given this scenario, it should not be a surprise that at your work place, you will come across someone who may be struggling with a mental health concern. It may also be possible that the worker in question may not have disclosed anything about their health concerns because of a misunderstanding and stigma associated with mental illness, possibly resulting in a loss of job. Fear of loss of job may also mean that someone struggling with metal health issues may not seek out professional help.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 depression will be second only to heart disease as the leading cause of days lost due to disability.

When a worker is physically hurt, the productivity decreases, however, with intervention, the workers can recover and return to the job.

Often this may not be the case with workers who may be stressed, burned out, depressed, suffering from anxiety or any other form of mental illness, and are not encouraged to seek professional help. Often such workers may stay on the job with decreased productivity and a personal level of suffering instead of seeking professional help.

If you come across someone at your workplace who is struggling with a mental health problem, you may want to learn ways to handle the situation.

Mental illness is an illness like any other physical illness. People have rights. Even people with mental illness have rights, the same rights that everyone enjoys.

From the supervisory point of view, there is a need to focus on job performance, not the disability. Canadian employers need to know that anyone who is ill has the right to accommodation. Mental illness or substandard performance as a result of mental illness is not enough cause to terminate an employee from their jobs. At least in Canada, the employers have legal, moral and social obligations to accommodate the employee struggling with mental illness.

Whether you are a manager, union rep or a fellow employee, you also need to know certain facts. Educate yourself about the mental health/illness. You never know, one of your family members, your neighbors or a friend may also be struggling with this challenge. It’s good to get rid of any myth, stereotype or misconceptions and know the facts.

Focus on your colleague/employee as a person, not their illness. At work, diagnosis doesn’t matter. The person’s performance matters. Diagnosis is not the person. Illness is not the person.

What matters is how you treat your colleagues/employees who may be struggling in their lives and at work. What matters is your understanding, kindness, compassion and your supports.

The illness doesn’t diminish your colleague’s/employee’s right to be treated with respect and to be treated as a colleague.

Respect the privacy of your coworkers/employees. Dispute stereotyping, stigma and misinformation. Avoid gossips, harassment and discrimination. Not only does this hurt, such actions can become a human rights issue, a legal liability, to your employer.

It’s a joint responsibility of the employers, the unions and the co-workers to address the toxic work environment. By addressing the issues which are impeding employee job satisfaction, we can create a workplace of choice with a high level of employee satisfaction. By creating harassment free, caring and a supportive environment for everyone, productivity as well as the bottom line (profits) can also be improved.

Naresh James





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