Is enough being done to support employees who have mental health problems? This is one question that has arisen since attending the HPMA Awards Ceremony last week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how well people with mental health problems are supported in their employment. When I was signed off by the doctor back in September last year with stress, anxiety and depression I had to phone my place of employment on a weekly basis to update my manager on how I was feeling and how my treatment plan was going. I was already experiencing stress and anxiety and this seemed to cause me further distress as part of my illness meant that I was getting over-anxious and finding it difficult to talk to anyone. Couple that with my Aspergers which makes it difficult for me to vocalise my thoughts and feelings and get nervous about phone conversations and I was in a really difficult space. I understand that my employer needed to know how I was recovering but when I was seeing the doctor on a fortnightly basis and being signed off for a fortnight at a time I did feel that the level of contact expected of me was a bit much at times.
When I returned to work I was introduced back to the working environment on a phased return which was a really good thing to get me used to being back in a working routine in the office and to test the waters with how I was feeling.
Now though, I feel like I am on my own where it comes to my mental health. Unlike a lot of illnesses and other medical problems (like a broken leg for example), I will not fully heal and suddenly be better. I have days where I am feeling brilliant, weeks when I am good or ok and then there are times that I really do struggle. I have days where I have to drag myself to work and fight to stay for the day rather than run home and sleep.
Those bad days are the worst. People often think that because you have managed to get to work that you must be fine and expect you to continue with your work as you had been on your good days.
The alternative to going to work on a bad day is to phone up and take a day off as a sick day. I have not done this as I have no idea how to explain to someone that my mental health is such that I really can not face work. I am also aware that the sickness policy is such that 3 sets of absence act as a trigger for a sickness review where a meeting with my line manager would take place and my “illnesses” discussed. Any additional absences trigger further warnings until eventually you are dismissed from your job. The policy for sickness may differ from place to place but for my last 4 jobs the same policy has been in place.
The big question is, should mental health be treated as a sickness under the sickness policy? I’m not sure that it should be as it is something that has varying degrees of being ok or not. I think that there should be an understanding between employer and employee with regards to mental health, and taking a day off because of mental health should be allowed, not be taken as a sick day, annual leave or as unpaid leave. I think that employees who are either on medication or under their doctor or mental health worker should have some kind of special leave granted for when things become too overwhelming.
I can see that special leave for mental health could be abused by an employee but I feel that if it was monitored correctly then people would not need to take days off here and there.
More could be done by the employer too, whether it is having regular “check-ins” with their employee just to see if all is ok when the employee is in work, or just noticing if the employee has changed, for example – becoming more withdrawn when they used to be chatty, getting less work done than before, if they appear to be getting more stressed out…
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to have conversations with you in the comments about this.