Mental Health, two words, words that mean so much, words that can define a person in either a positive or negative sense. Words that can stop people from engaging in life, stop companies from hiring, stop friends from calling, stop a conversation dead in its’ tracks.

Let’s talk mental health. What is your gut response? Are you open to talk? Are you nervous about where this is headed? Are you prepared for wherever this conversation may go? We all like to think of ourselves as open minded, well adjusted, able to be supportive, ready to help a friend or family member in need but are we really?

All it takes is an inflection in the voice to shut down conversation. A twitch of a mouth, an exasperated sigh, the infamous look in the eyes. In our household that is called the “evil eye”, a non-verbal message sent that says conversation over, if it ever started. I was about to use the generalization “people who suffer from mental health issues”, but the reality is we all have mental stressors, whether or not they have reached the boiling point depends on, well life.

In talking with professionals from the field of mental health, there is a common theme. The focus on treatment for mental health is bio-medicine. The prescribing of medications in an effort to control the swings of depression, the swings of bi-polar disorder or whatever condition you have been diagnosed as having. The reality is that bio-meds do not always work, not for everyone. So what else helps? What else has a positive effect on mental health? According to the professionals who work in this field, the ones who teach in this field every day, the answer is knowledge and support.

Knowledge in the understanding of the various forms that mental health takes. Knowledge in the recognition of symptoms that vary by gender or age or circumstance. Support in recognizing that people have bad days, giving a friend, co-worker or family member the understanding that not every day is perfect, that they may not be at peak performance. But even more important, the knowledge and support to permit yourself those same luxuries of allowing yourself to be whom you are. We are constantly trying to get people to fit into whatever we have decided is “normal”. We make allowances for eccentric behaviour in people who display genius or perceived creativity, but we want the majority to fit nice and neat into our perceptions, our comfort zones. Who decides normal? The group, the community, society or work? All play a role and most use window dressings as acceptance of mental health issues.

Apply this to the world of work, it is well known that people work differently. Recognizing their abilities, their strengths and their optimum work environments are all key to ensuring you as an employer are maximizing your employees’ potential.

Employers all over are finding it hard to recruit good employees, they have begun to recognize that there are many suitable people with many unique talents to be found in hiring persons with disabilities. The key to success is knowledge and support within the workplace.

In the article, “Are You Ignoring Your Employees’ Mental Health Crisis?” written by Emily Douglas, she quotes Mary Ann Baynton, program Director at the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace:

“So, in this new age of transparency and openness, are employees still nervous about opening up over mental health issues?”

“It depends on the stigma in their individual workplace,” explained Baynton. “To be able to talk about mental health is to be able to talk about how we feel in the moment. We’re all dealing with our own mental health on a moment by moment basis. Some of us may have a diagnosis, some don’t; but there’ll be days when we’re distracted and our thinking is impaired.”

“And this doesn’t just relate to substance abuse, she tells us: An employee’s thinking could be impaired because they’ve been up all night with a baby, or they’re being bullied by a colleague, or they’re worried about being fired.”

Ideally, leadership for inclusion and a positive attitude towards mental health would be started by management from the top down.

The ideal is not always the reality. It can start anywhere – from a co-worker to middle management to a director. Ultimately it has to come from every person, because if you as the HR leader are a champion for mental health, but still have employees treating each other disrespectfully, then you’re never going to have a psychologically safe workplace.

Mary Ann Baynton

My message in all of this is that we have to make room for people. We have to let people know that it is okay to be different, to have less than perfect days and that we will be supportive or at least try our best. We have to acknowledge that the reality is we all have mental health issues, stressors or whatever term you want to use.

When you are having a ‘bad day’ you expect others to give you space and support, then demonstrate those qualities yourself. It does start with you. PPRC has worked with many employers who have accessed our pool of suitable candidates, find out more at “How We help Employers”.

Disagree? Have an Opinion? I am here, talk to me, #GetLoud.