Mental stress is not a weakness. Everyone will go through a period of stress at some point in their lives, but not everyone will experience mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health shows that one in five adults in the U.S. has some form of mental illness. Yet, mental health still holds a stigma in our workplaces and society as a whole.
We sat down with Jason Wilkey, our Senior Employee Engagement Specialist, to ask how Relay Resources promotes a positive work experience for employees with mental illness. Here’s what we found out.
IF SOMEONE IS NAVIGATING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AT WORK, HOW CAN THEY APPROACH THEIR EMPLOYER?
We encourage employees to be self-advocates. By discussing triggers and limitations with their manager and/or human resources, it gives the employer the information they need to help set everyone up for success.
CAN THERE BE REPERCUSSIONS TO AN EMPLOYEE IF THEY REPORT TO THEIR EMPLOYER THAT THEY HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS?
According to the ADA National Network:
“The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. When job applicants or employees have a mental health condition that meets this criteria, they have workplace rights under the ADA.”
WHAT ARE WAYS THAT THE EMPLOYER CAN WORK WITH THEIR EMPLOYEE FOR POSITIVE OUTCOMES?
Employers can create reasonable accommodations to the position to make it a better environment for the employee. At Relay Resources, we work with the employee’s licensed provider to identify functional limitations, triggers, and accommodation needs to improve the likelihood of success for the individual. This may include things like a consistent routine and minimizing unannounced or quick changes. An environment that is constantly or suddenly changing can trigger stress and anxiety. By trying to minimize those factors we can work on making the employee environment a more positive experience. AskJAN.org is a great tool for employers to learn more about accommodations.
WHAT CAN AN EMPLOYER DO IF AN EMPLOYEE IS SHOWING SIGNS OF DISTRESS?
Others often recognize signs of mental distress before the individual does. When someone sees signs of mental distress they should approach the situation in a calm and even-tempered manner while offering emotional support, reassurance, and encouragement.
Allow the employee additional time to collect themselves in the immediate situation. When assessing the situation causing the distress, explore options like adapting task loads or reassigning the employee to a more appropriate job setting. Also, making sure a manager is available and in frequent contact with the employee helps to ensure any issues can be addressed in a timely manner.
It’s important to clarify that corrections or critiques in performance are not personal but part of a larger learning process. Coupling corrections with positive observations helps to encourage growth.
There are things we all can do to help break the stigma around mental health and encourage employees to communicate their needs. We recently started training courses with Mental Health First Aid. This program teaches simple steps to help identify and respond to someone navigating a mental crisis. These skills will provide our team tools to effectively address situations.
Both Jason Wilkey, our Senior Employee Engagement Specialist, and Jonathan Cresson, our Learning & Development Manager, became certified Mental Health First Aid trainers so they can continue to provide ongoing training to our Relay Resources employees, referral partners, and community members. They will also be available for Mental Health First Aid training for local Portland, OR area businesses and our surrounding communities. Contact us to learn how you can participate.
By educating staff on mental health and providing training on mental health first aid, employers can increase awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health. When we normalize the importance of mental health we can create better work environments for everyone.