Employers30 October 2017

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


Your employees will need your support at many stages through their employment with you; they may experience struggles across the mental health spectrum, from a tough time in their life to time 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 Dr Laura Kirby, Principal Consultant Psychologist with CommuniCorp and facilitator of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training1.

Know what mental health is all about and the assistance available

While you are not required to know the ins and outs of mental illnesses, it's vital to understand how mental health can impact on 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 Dr Kirby.

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

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

It isn't just a matter of referring a person on, however. Dr 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 day to day interactions and providing your employees with the knowledge that you are approachable and there to assist them.

'As a leader, your actions can influence the health and wellbeing of the workplace,' says Dr 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 a culture of open dialogue, support and early intervention 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,' Dr 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 their needs when things get tough. This type of ongoing supportiveness makes a conversation about mental health similar to having the chats that a genuine working relationship brings.

Taking action

When you're taking action, it's important to have the skills, strategies and confidence to do so in a manner that’s appropriate for the situation. This is the basis of SuperFriend's Mental Health and Wellbeing Training1; SuperFriend provides managers with the knowledge and preparation to be proactive towards creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

1http://www.superfriend.com.au/how-can-we-help/mentally-healthy-workplaces/mental-health-wellbeing-training-staff-managers/ Accessed 20 October 2017. 


Mental health and wellbeing training literature

Interview with Dr Laura Kirby, CommuniCorp

This article was provided by SuperFriend®, a national health promotion foundation that helps ‘all profit to member’ superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace. SuperFriend provides easy to understand information about mental health and mental illness, tips on how workplaces can create supportive work environments and importantly, where to find reliable help if you or someone you know needs assistance.

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