Understanding mental health in the workplace

Written by
Dr Raj Kumar

20 Apr 2016

20 Apr 2016 • by Dr Raj Kumar

Open up a discussion about mental health

Stigma remains one of the main barriers to addressing this challenge. In many cases, employees refrain from discussing mental health issues with their employer for fear of jeopardising their career prospects and/or falling victim to discrimination. By instigating an open discussion about mental health issues such as stress and depression, employers can encourage employees to speak out early if they are affected, enter a dialogue and gain information about company policies already in place, and those that they would like to see introduced. Launching an anonymous poll or feedback system inviting staff to discuss workplace satisfaction is a good start. 


Introduce screening tools to evaluate cognitive function in your staff

Screening tools for mental health and cognitive function allow staff and employers to act as early as possible to combat the onset of issues such as stress and depression. Self-administered screening e.g.  MyCognition’s MyCQ for cognitive function, or mental health apps like MoodFx designed to enable individuals facing depression to track their symptoms, reduce the demands placed on medical professionals, and empowers individuals to make informed decisions regarding their health, facilitating their timely access to appropriate treatment. Talking about this subject as cognitive function further removes some of the stigma associated with mental health.


Support employees with performance boosting intervention and regular check-ups

Employers could host awareness programmes about the symptoms of mental ill-health, as well as intervene discreetly by offering subscriptions to cognitive function training and fitness apps that can help strengthen cognition, such as programmes to improve executive function and other cognitive domains. Workplace interventions relying on screening and care have been shown to deliver considerable returns on investment. A 2010 study by Harvard Medical School involving over 600 workers found a considerable return on investment from a wellness initiative consisting of telephone screening and depression care management. In the randomised, controlled trial, individuals who received telephone psychotherapy reported significantly improved mood and were more likely to keep their jobs when compared with the control group. They also improved their productivity, equivalent to about 2.6 hours of extra work per week, worth on average $1,800 per year, which compared to a cost of intervention between $100 and $400 per employee.

Protect the work/life balance

It is a familiar idea that a good work/life balance contributes positively to mental health. Encouraging proper lunch breaks and establishing an offline weekend policy alleviates the burden weighing on employees. Team leaders might also consider a tailored approach, restructuring workloads for employees who suffer from poor mental health.


Build a framework to deal with more serious mental health conditions

Invest in training your HR and Occupational Health professionals to assist staff in seeking out assistance. As qualified voices they can be on hand to offer guidance, not least should employees decide to disclose the results of screening assessments.

To go further, make sure that the expertise of these professionals translates to the whole organisation. Educate line managers about how to respond to sensitive situations as they are first in line and, if unmindful of the issues at stake, may set in motion a negative spiral by adding to the pressures facing already vulnerable staff. Finally, a well-structured approach to sickness leave can facilitate a managed return to work for those who have been absent