How equipped would you be to support an employee with mental health challenges?

13 February 2018

Your employees will often need your support through their employment with you; they may experience several struggles, from a tough time in their life to experiencing mental health issues.

This idea may seem daunting, however it helps to be pragmatic about the realities.

“It’s no different to providing support around a physical injury, but there are stigmas and sensitivities around mental health so having sensitive conversations is important,” says Communicorp principal consultant psychologist Dr Laura Kirby, who is also with CommuniCorp and facilitator of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training facilitator.


Know what mental health is all about and the assistance available

While you are not required to know mental illnesses’ ins and outs, it is vital to understand how mental health can impact the workplace.

“Having an appreciation of how people can be impacted by mental health concerns is the first step in knowing how to provide support around that,” explains Kirby.

If someone approaches you or discloses a challenge they’re experiencing, it’s vital you know how to help them find assistance.

“You need to make sure there are appropriate supports in place,” Kirby says. “That might be workplace support that you as a manager can provide, or it might be more personal individual supports outside the workplace, depending on what’s going on for the person.”

It isn’t just a matter of referring a person on, however. Kirby explains: “You should also be prepared to say what support can be offered in the workplace and how to address any specific workplace stressors, so that you’re preventing things from recurring and not just sending someone away to speak to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hoping they will fix it. The EAP can’t fix workplace stressors, so as a manager you play a really important role in mitigating some of the risks that are presenting in the workplace.”


Provide supportive leadership

Being a supportive leader is about having positive daily interactions and letting your employees know you are approachable and there to assist them.

“As a leader, your actions can influence the health and wellbeing of the workplace,” says Kirby. “There are different styles of leadership, and the one that’s been proven to be the most beneficial for people in providing a productive workplace is supportive leadership behaviour. You can display these behaviours to increase a sense of support and value in the workplace, making it easier for employees to ask for help when they need it.”

Creating an open dialogue, support and early intervention culture is a major step towards creating a mentally healthy workplace.

“Be open and understand your role as a supportive leader and providing that positive environment,” Kirby advises.

If you have a strong everyday relationship with your employees, in which they feel comfortable approaching you about their difficulties, then you will be more able to support them when things get tough.

When you’re taking action, it’s important to have the skills, strategies and confidence to do so in an appropriate manner. This is the basis of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training which provides managers with the knowledge and preparation to help create and maintain a mentally healthy workplace.