Mental Health

Going back a number of years now, mental illness wasn’t very well understood. When we’d receive a call from someone saying they weren’t going to make it in to work because they were feeling, “A bit down” we didn’t give them a tremendous amount of sympathy.

Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get many calls like that, maybe it was easier to say that they had ‘flu like symptoms’ instead. I can see why. Mental illness wasn’t greatly understood and in fact, it was pretty well hidden.

I can’t remember anyone in my childhood not wanting to play football because they weren’t mentally up to it or were just feeling in the ‘doldrums.’ I can’t remember any teacher being off ill and being told they were depressed or suffering from anxiety. My parents never explained anything about mental illness, perhaps they knew nothing about it back then? School didn’t mention it.
I think if people had said what they felt, they’d have had been ridiculed rather than anything else, perhaps hiding it was the easiest way. They must have. Look at the criminal cases now coming out about child abuse in football clubs, children’s homes and even the Church. People must have been suffering terribly and just not saying anything?

Thank goodness the stigma is being lifted and people needing to be treated and/or counselled to get what help they need.

As an employer, mental health and illness is extremely confusing and to be honest, worrying. Now that people actually mention this in applications and doctor’s notes have it written, it’s definitely out in the open. My concern is how to manage mental health and illness. I’m no expert, in fact, I’d not heard of mental illness until the turn of the millennium. Mental illness to me meant locking people up in psychiatric units for the good of us ‘normal people.’ How ignorant is that? Perhaps it’s more uneducated than ignorant?

Perhaps I should have known better. My cousin Craig who was middle aged and living in Australia took his own life on a mountain overlooking his home because of depression that no family member knew anything about. This happened a dozen or so years ago and I know his sister and mother (my aunty) have struggled badly with it. Gary Speed, manager of Wales and a ex Newcastle United favourite of mine hanged himself hours after appearing on a live TV football show talking enthusiastically about the future and having no outward symptoms of any mental illness. Gary’s family and friends were surprised and devastated in equal measure. If families and experts struggle to recognise mental illness, how can an employer?

Anyway, back to the employer / employee relationship and what we can or can’t do. I’m currently learning as much as I can about mental illness, autism and a whole host of things I honestly know little about. Scarily, nor do most people I’m speaking to. One organisation I explained a situation to referred me to ACAS. The numbers of sufferers in our population is terrifying. One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Of course, we have a duty of care towards our staff and we really do try to understand and work with a host of issues the best we can but we can be exploited too. Mental illness can be used as a weapon against the employer. Recently I had a discussion about someone’s work performance and was told that I had to “Back off as I have mental issues and depression and I know my rights, you’re discriminating against me.” How are we supposed to deal with that?

Knowing that staff have a mental health issue means that we need to assess suitability to work, look at the type of site they’re working on, whether they can or should work alone and even the personalities of the people they work with. As I said before, I’m no expert and few seem to be. This is scary stuff which is why I’m trying to get to understand it. Once I’ve done that enough, I’ve then got to inform my management team of what they can do to deal with issues relating to mental health and illness! I hope I find the help I need to be able to handle this is a knowledgeable and sensitive way.

I discussed a recent issue with the Mind Helpline and they couldn’t advise me from an employer point of view but they did refer me to ‘Mindful Employer’ which I’m really starting to look at and get involved with. I just hope they can answer more of my questions than most have been able to.

Thank goodness mental health is now a talked about topic and as an employer, we can start to do something to help those suffering.

If you’re feeling depressed, anxious or stressed, have a look at he NHS’s Moodzone at