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FUNCTIONAL IMPACTS IN THE WORKPLACE

By Tasha Broomhall

Individuals may experience variations in the severity of the functional impacts caused by their mental illness, and they may need different levels and types of support. Organisations have traditionally not been good at responding with an individual approach to an issue that is often shrouded in misunderstanding, stereotype and stigma.

The focus for the organisation need not be on trying to pseudo-diagnose someone, but rather on trying to develop an understanding of the functional impacts that an individual experiences, and investigating appropriate supports.

If you notice any of these symptoms and you are concerned about an employee, be careful not to assume that they are experiencing a mental illness. Instead have a conversation with the employee about what you have observed .

Having the symptoms in themselves does not mean that an employee is experiencing mental illness. It is when the symptoms are pervasive, long lasting and are impacting on the employee’s functioning that it may be at a clinical level of illness. If symptoms are observed and are of concern these can be appropriately addressed with the employee, and assistance may be needed to prevent the issue developing further.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WORKPLACE DISCLOSURE

If an employee has mental health issues are you likely to know about it? Do they have to disclose a mental illness? This is a complex area where essentially if the illness is affecting an employee’s functioning (and their capacity to perform the core requirements of their job), then it is considered that they do have a responsibility to disclose the illness to their employer4. However, many employees will still choose not to if they don’t feel that it is socially safe to do so.

The reasons why employees do not disclose mental health issues can be very simple, such as they feel that it’s not affecting their work performance and therefore is no one else’s business. Or the reasons can be quite complex in that it can be a mixture of previous negative reactions and therefore fear of discrimination, self-stigma or even lack of awareness of how badly their performance is being affected. Many employees do report receiving negative responses to their disclosure, however, others report that they felt they were treated well and fairly.

So how do organisations tackle this issue? The first step is to acknowledge that mental health is an important part of general health and as such you will have employees who are affected at times. Then understand that not all employees with mental health issues will be impacted in their work functioning, but if they are then it is important that they feel safe to disclose their issues so that the employer can work with them to meet your obligations to them and other employees and provide appropriate support, while still managing the organisation’s needs.

When implemented, appropriate strategies can help greatly improve an organisation’s culture of mental health and wellbeing, to the point where employees feel that it is safe to disclose any mental health issues and get the support that they need.

Written by:  Tasha Broomhall

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