Talking about Mental Health in the Workplace - 5 Steps to Support a Co-Worker
A survey by Children’s Mental Health Ontario that was released late last year suggests that almost half of the province’s youth miss school due to issues related to anxiety, and one-quarter of parents surveyed have missed work to care for their child due to issues related to anxiety. This article had me thinking not only about how organizations are impacted by the mental health of their employees – but also, how the mental health of employee's children can trickle into the workforce.
Another study conducted by The Conference Board of Canada, showed that lost productivity caused by workers’ depression and anxiety costs the Canadian economy almost $50 billion a year, both through lost absenteeism – calling in sick, and presenteeism – being at work and performing at reduced productivity. I’m curious to know what percentage of these stats include absenteeism of parents who have had to take time off work to take care of their child’s mental health – not to mention the presenteeism of these said parents when they are at work but thinking of matters at home.
Whether a parent must take a sick day to drive a child to a doctor’s appointment, or if they came to work after a rough morning, a child’s mental health can have an impact on everyone in the family – at home and in the workplace. As much as we try not to bring our home life to work in the morning, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve had to lie to an employer about why I was late and why I had to fly out of the office at a moment’s notice. And unfortunately, there has been more than one time that I can recall having a less than productive day because my mind was on what transpired that morning trying to get my daughter to school.
Surpassed only by injuries, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.
Mental disorders are the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada, surpassed only by injuries. So, this begs the question, would you feel as comfortable telling your boss that your sick day was to care for your child’s mental health, as you would be telling your employer that you were home with a child who has the flu? This goes back to the debate over why mental health isn’t treated the same as physical health.
In my experience, I didn't feel comfortable discussing my child’s mental health struggles at work – why? – well, I felt that my managers, as well as my co-workers, didn't understand. So, when faced with juggling late mornings due to school refusal, and short days due to problems at school - I lied. On days when my child refused to go into her class and I was delayed at school, I blamed it on traffic problems. I also made sure that I had a few phony excuses on hand in case I had to flee out of the office on a moment's notice. After a while, this has its toll on a person, which eventually lead me to leave a demanding job and enter the world of freelance work for a couple of years. I often wonder how many other parents are faced with a similar dilemma?
Now that I work in the mental health industry, I hear more stories from other parents who are going through - or have gone through similar situations. Each parent who I speak with says the same thing – that they feel alone and isolated as if they are the only one in his or her particular situation. This was no different from me at the time. But now that I talk more about it, more and more people are coming out of the woodwork. When I started talking, it was amazing how many people knew of others going through similar situations. I would be connected with a parent who went through a similar situation and who provided me with advice, and now I too am finding people searching for help, and I hope that I have been able to help them. So why aren’t we talking about it? After years of anguish, I realize that once I started talking, people were there to help and that keeping it to myself really didn’t help me in the long-run.
As employers, employees, and co-workers we can do better. You can’t always change your employer’s level of empathy, or your organizational culture, but individually, we can do our best to help our fellow co-worker out. If you see a colleague struggling with his or mental health or has a child who is – here are five steps you can take to make your workplace more accommodating.
1. Learn about anxiety
Educate yourself about what anxiety is. You’ll be more likely to help and support someone if you understand more about what they are going through.
2. Remember not to push
Let your colleague know that you are there if they need someone to talk to, but don’t force them to open up if they aren’t ready. Ask them how you can help and respect whether he/she wishes to talk about it. Don’t make any judgements on what is going on.
3. Involve your co-worker
Encourage your co-worker to take a break and get out and go for a walk and continue to include them in workplace activities. Even if they don’t seem like they are interested, you can still include them and leave it up to them if they wish to participate.
4. Express empathy when you can
Let your colleague know that you understand what they are going through. If they’ve been off work for a while, make them feel comfortable when they return.
5. Encourage them to seek support from the workplace
Is there an EAP program in place that can provide counselling for your co-worker? Or can they speak to their direct manager or HR manager?
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about how to support a friend or family member, visit https://www.anxietycanada.com/adults/how-friends-and-family-can-help. For more information on Anxiety Canada and its resources, visit www.anxietycanada.com. Also check out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Works website at www.mentalhealthworks.ca for ideas and strategies.