Saturday 6 April 2013

"Not Myself Today - At Work"

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

I have been thinking a lot lately about mental illness and the workplace. I think about how depression impacts me in all facets of my life but maybe I think mostly about how it impacts me and my work. I think about how it may or may not affect my performance and my relationships with colleagues. Yes, I think about it a lot.

As I have written before, I am in a very unique situation - I work for an employer that values diversity and people with disabilities (under the Canadian Human Rights Code, depression is considered a disability). Sadly, this is not the case for the majority.

In particular, I am lucky that I have a manager who seems to intuitively understand how to manage an employee who has chronic depression. I say intuitively because as far as I know, she has had no formal training on the subject. Yes, she and I work in Human Resources but that doesn't mean that all HR professionals understand how mental health impacts the workplace or how to manage those who have it. I know that from both personal and professional experience.

Currently I work as a Recruitment Consultant but in my previous role I was an Employee Relations Consultant and my day to day accountabilities were to coach managers on employee performance related issues, discipline, and return to work/workplace accommodation. I saw on a daily basis the impact that lack of communication can have within the workplace.

If an employee has many sick days or is often late, the instinct of many managers is to "write Susie up - this behaviour can't go on any longer." I have a question, Ms. Manager, have you spoken to Susie yet? Have you been able to ascertain why she is absent from work so much or why she is chronically late? Does punishment fit the "crime"? Is there even a crime? Start with a conversation.

And herein lies the crux of the problem. We, canadian employers that is, are still not talking. It's as simple as that. OK, maybe there are a few whispers here and there about the fact that something needs to be done. And, we are beginning to hear startling statistics from sources such as the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Mental Health Association:
  • Over 500,000 people are absent from work each day for mental health reasons
  • 1 in 3 workplace disability claims are related to mental illness
  • Mental health claims (especially depression and anxiety) have overtaken cardiovascular disease as the fastest growing category of disability costs in Canada
  • $6.3 billion is the estimated cost of lost productivity due to mental illnesses in Canada in just one year alone
  • Less than half of employees believe their company promotes a mentally healthy work environment
  • Due to stigma and discrimination, many employees are fearful of disclosing their illness and reluctant to seek help; only 23% of Canadians said they would feel comfortable talking to an employer about their mental illness
I don't know about you but I don't feel so good about this - as a Human Resources professional, as a person with depression, and as human being concerned about our health as a nation. But here is the good news: we can change this and we will.

One of the things that has helped me in my fight against depression is the fact that I know that there is a community of people out there who are in the same boat as I and who are committed to talking about mental illness. Two fabulous "communities" that I belong to are Partners For Mental Health (PFMH) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

Back to Ms. Manager for a moment. I kind of can't blame her for not knowing where to start or how to start. Although government and grass roots organizations are starting to talk about mental health and the workplace, the majority of employers aren't there yet. It's a bit of the wild, wild west out there. And that's exactly why PFMH and the CMHA are doing such important, exciting work - work that I am so proud to be supporting as a volunteer.

PFMH will soon be launching a new version of their successful Not Myself Today campaign from last year. The new campaign in May & June will highlight mental illness in the workplace: Not Myself Today - At Work.  There will be tools, information, and lots of discussion with Canadian employers. Funds raised will support both PFMH and CMHA. And the collective consciousness raised? Well, that will benefit us all.

KB xo

P.S. I want to hear from you about mental illness and the workplace. Share your experience, questions, thoughts, and ideas about how we can tackle this issue. I'll be writing about this throughout the upcoming Not Myself Today - At Work campaign this spring.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments on mental health in the workplace.
    I have worked in mental health peer support for 15 years and have seen that even - perhaps even more - in the mental health workplace, people with mental health issues are not regarded as needing help or support. I have seen managers who are abusive with their staff and have watched as people tried to right wrongs by going to boards and "professional" mediators for help. The laws do not allow workplace harassment but they are still on the side of the employer and in the end workers may as well leave their jobs because after complaining they are subject to even more (but more subtle) abuse.
    I now work as an executive and private coach and hope to be able to support employers and employees who may be going down this slippery slope.


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