Why Should i train my employees on mental health?
Whenever I talk to someone about mental health the conversation usually lacks seriousness. There is no doubt that everybody is eager to learn more about mental health as much as they want to learn about physical health. But there is something which stops people from discussing mental health out in the open. Sure, we can talk about diabetes, HIV-AIDS, dengue, hypertension and so on without any hesitation with our friends, family and GP but something stops us discussing anxiety, depression, or mood fluctuations in the same vein. Our society has overcome many taboos in the recent past but there is still some hesitation to talk about our own mental health. An open discussion on mental health is not only important at a personal level but it is very vital at a professional level too. But is it important to talk about mental health at my workplace? In simple words, the mental health of a person affects their productivity as well as that of the team. Research into mental health of employees has shown:
- Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.
- Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms.(Source: CDC)
In India, the number of people who receive treatment for mental health problems is very low. Only 15% of people with a common mental illness take treatment and an astonishing 85% of the population will spend their lifetime without getting any help. Majority of these people who do not get treatment will also belong to the productive group of the society. The National Mental Health Survey conducted in 2015 shows that the prevalence of mental morbidity is highest among the 40-49 years age group adults which shows the productive age group people are affected (See image below). This results in a sizable economic loss for workplaces due to absenteeism, loss of human resources, additional costs for training new employees etc. But is there anything the workplaces can do to address or prevent such issues?
Image Source: National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16
We are living in a world where there is a shift towards the need for good quality mental health education. Many countries are having open discussions on integrating mental health education right from school education. From this, we can understand how serious the problem of good mental health education is. When there is lack of education it gives rise to misconceptions, fear and stigma. This has resulted in negative attitudes towards persons experiencing mental illnesses and bias towards them and mental health. When there is an increase in knowledge such negative attitudes and bias are shown to decrease. This was demonstrated in a trial conducted in Australia in the year 2002. Three hundred participants from an office took part in this trial. The participants were split into two groups and MHFA was taught to only one group. At the end of the trial the persons who were taught MHFA showed improved mental health literacy, confidence to provide help to others, and improved their own mental health. This study proved the importance of good quality mental health education for adults and the need for MHFA at workplaces. So, apart from providing quality education for the employees what are some steps that workplaces can do with regards to mental health?
The needs of the people with mental disorders are early recognition, information about their illness and treatment options, medical care, psychological support and hospitalization (Source: WHO The World Health Report 2001). Early recognition of mental illness can help by intervening at the right time and prevent the progression of mental health problems into more serious conditions by guiding them to professional help and by providing psychological care and support. Workplaces can take an initiative in these stages by:
- Promoting good mental health among employees through forums, posters, internal communication tools etc.
- Creating mental health positive policies in the workplace.
- Providing mental health supportive programmes through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP).
- Conducting regular mental health assessments for the employees.
- Providing mental health packages in the health insurance for employees.
- Creating dedicated spaces for relaxation activities within the office.
- Train managers on identifying early signs of mental health problems and provide resources to them to guide a person to professional help.
- Create a first responder system at the office to address a mental health crisis situation.
- Provide resources of self-help for employees to know more about mental health and mental illnesses.
- Earmark budget for mental health
Mental health awareness and open discussions on mental health is a positive first step in the direction towards good mental health of the employees. This is especially needed in times such as COVID-19 pandemic where there is no direct contact between the management and employees. Checking on the mental health of the employees is also as important as physical health during this time. By providing tools for good mental health for their employees, workplaces are also contributing to society.
Article Written by DR.Thirumaal - Mental Health Officer - MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID INDIA