Mental Health Illnesses
The issue of mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in various employments.
Mental health issues are a significant factor in long term absences. Much of the research about workplace mental health is targeted on preventative actions. These actions include creating a positing working environment. Unfortunately very little of the debate in Ireland is about preventative action.
There is even less debate and action relating to the roll of employers in facilitating an employee coming back into the workplace after a mental health illness. The issue of first time employees obtaining work where they have a history of mental health problems is not being addressed in the general workplaces.
There is a significant issue with employees both those looking for work and those in work seeking assistance if they believe they have a mental health issue. By mental health issue we mean suffering from stress. It can be also anxiety and depression caused often by excessive working hours or an excessive work load.
It appears to be an unfortunate fact that individuals with mental health issues have a higher rate of unemployment. The reality from research appears to state that suitable employment can enhance a person’s psychological well being. It can provide individuals with structure, purpose and social outlets. It provides a sense of identity and dignity.
The discussion on this area is to what can be done to make sure that individuals are provided with an opportunity of getting jobs or returning to workplaces. The Employment Equality Acts do provide for “reasonable accomodation” being provided. However, Legislation is only one area. For this to be an issue which is seriously addressed there is a requirement that employers look on this in a positive way. By this we mean what they can do to facilitate opening up workplaces to individuals who may have had a history previously of mental health issues. However, probably the most pressing issue is that employers recognise the benefit and work in a positive way to reintegrate an employee who has suffered a mental illness back into the workplace.
In a recent report by the mental Health Reform it highlights that barriers impeding individuals returning to employment are not clinical. Rather these barriers centre on stigma and discrimination.
There is a requirement for a great understanding of mental health. This is needed to counteract perceptions about the illnesses in workplaces.
Of course employers will have concerns. These include issues of trust, the issue of the capability of the individual, the cost involved in possibly extra supervision and often the issue of future absenteeism. A lot of these concerns can be addressed by creating awareness of mental health illness. Supporting inclusion in workplaces is a significant issue in addressing mental health in workplaces.
This is a social issue that needs to be addressed. Of course there are legal provisions as we have set out previously. Employers are obliged by law to meet the requirements of the Employment Equality legislation.
It must be remembered that there is no obligation on an employee to disclose any mental health problem which they may have to an existing or future employer. There is an exception where there may be a health and safety risk to the employee themselves or other individuals including the employer.
The issue of mental health in the workplace due to recent research by See Change SCH in Ireland is that 46% of people under the age of 35 would conceal a mental health difficulty.
Employers do need to look at what actions they can take both internally in the organisation which would better support employees returning to it or working for them for the first them. Unlike Ireland the NHS in the UK has practice recommendations. We do not have these from the HSE in Ireland.
The sad reality of matters is that mental health issues are now becoming a significant issue in many workplaces. By addressing the problem and having a supportive working environment this can assist individual employees providing a positive return for an employer. An employer is more likely to have a loyal employee in the future. Mental health illnesses should not be regarded as a negative but rather a fact of life and one that if properly managed enables potentially positive and loyal employees to remain or to join an organisation. We are very far behind other countries in the area of mental health illness awareness in workplaces. The first issue which we need to discuss and address is making sure that those who are in the workplace and suffer a mental illness get the appropriate support and if they have to take time off that there are proactive procedures in place to reintegrate them into the workforce.
*Before acting or refraining from acting on anything in this guide, legal advice should be sought from a solicitor.
**In contentious cases, a solicitor may not charge fees or expenses as a portion or percentage of any award of settlement.