How People confuse mental heath and mental illness
I run a series of workshops, and they all relate to the subject of mental health in the workplace. And I’ve tried to explain this to so many people, but if you can think of it as an umbrella. I refer to my workshops as mental health matters in the workplace . Matters serving a dual purpose in terms of the word matters could mean issues, but it also means that mental health matters, it should be a concern. So it’s got a dual meaning. So I’ve got the umbrella of mental health matters in the workplace.
But my flagship workshop has the title Understanding and Managing Mental Illness in the Workplace. And that comes up under my umbrella of being a mental health matter. Now, the reason as I said these terms of being confused. And I had a previous marketing partner, who, in their wisdom sent out the topic of that workshop, as Understanding and Managing Mental Health in the Workplace instead of illness.
And it made such a huge difference. I was actually extremely annoyed. I said to them, “Why did you change the word?”. And they said they weren’t paying attention. But it changed everything. Because that workshop is about understanding mental illness. Mental illness is a topic all on its own. And in that workshop, I talk about the mental illnesses that you can expect to see in the workplace, like your depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder. And I’ll also include a little bit about schizophrenia, which is not a common mental illness in the workplace, because it is one of the more severe illnesses, people with schizophrenia can work. But often, they don’t, especially as they get older, it’s kind of a degenerative disease, if I can call it that.
That whole workshop is talking about illnesses and how to manage them in the workplace, whereas mental health covers a much broader spectrum. All my other workshops fall under that like Building Resilience, The power of Being Assertive ect, that’s a mental health concern. It’s not actually a mental illness. So mental illness is just one part of mental health. And if you want to manage mental health in your workplace, what you’re going to be doing is very different to what I’m talking about in my, in my workshop about mental illness.
So we’ve got to understand that mental health is a big global term, and everyone’s talking about it. We need to be more aware of our mental health. And yes, we do healthy living and managing the organizational strategies to limit the risk of burnout. These are all mental health concerns, but mental illness is another topic. And it’s, I think it’s an extremely important topic. I see it all the time in the workplace. People, just don’t get it. Everyone knows what it means to be a paraplegic. They can see, the persons in a wheelchair, they can’t walk, they’ve got no function from the waist down, you know, these things, we can see them. When it comes to mental illness. People just don’t. A lot of people just don’t get it. So yeah, if there’s an important difference between health and illness.
Analogy to physical illness.
When I do my workshops, I use a lot of analogies to physical illness to try and help people understand. You just said that thing about if they go to their boss and say, they’re really struggling to get going in the morning. That’s a classic problem and people with depressive disorders and there are lots of reasons for that. It’s a symptom and it’s also a side effect of the medication that they take.
The analogy I often make and people’s eyes just light up when I say this. But asking someone with severe depression to get out of bed in the morning. is like asking a paraplegic to stand up. That is how difficult it can be for someone with depression. And I’d see people’s eyes going big and people nodding their heads and saying, Oh, really? Is it? Can it be that hard?
And to try and get this message across to the managers. Someone with depression is coming late for work every day they get disciplined. Whereas someone who’s paralyzed, he’s coming late for work, because they’ve had catheter problems or bowel management problems, get all the sympathy in the world. Again, it’s about understanding, and that’s what the workshop on understanding mental illness is all about. About trying to help HR managers, and any kind of managers, supervisors, team leaders understand that this thing called mental illness is a very real thing. And, the responses are amazing, they really do just start to get it. And those analogies that are used between physical illness can help quite a bit.
Do employers really care about the mental well being of their employees?
But you know, one of the things I was thinking about is. Do employers really care about the mental well being of their employees? And, the straightforward answer to that is some do and some don’t. I think what I’m experiencing at the moment, in my own marketing efforts. Is that a lot of companies do have the service of ICAS. This is a service, that’s available to all their employees, and even their families, if they’re struggling with issues, they can go to ICAS.
But I fear that a lot of people don’t make use of that. And there’s a lot of fear about being found out at work, that you have a mental health issue. And this all comes back to stigma, which, unfortunately, prevails still, very, very strongly. People are saying that it’s getting better, but it’s definitely still there. And although COVID has helped people, in a way talk about the importance of mental health at work. I don’t think that it’s really done much to reduce the stigma. And if anything, people are being even quieter about their struggles now, because jobs are on the line. I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of people in the world have lost their jobs in the last few years. So obviously people are going to be wanting to protect their job as much as they can.
And if they think that they’re going to be frowned upon. Because they go to their HR manager or their line manager. And they say, Look, I’ve been struggling with depression. If they think that there’s any chance that that’s going to put their heads first onto that chopping block, they’re not going to do it. What I’ve also experienced in organizations, and I hope I’m sticking to the point here, because, I do have so many thoughts that come into my head. And I’ve also got a bit of ADHD actually think I always have, but I’ve never been treated for it.
I think it needs to start at the top. I don’t think it can just start at middle management. So I’m, trying to encourage organizations to go right to the very top. And get them, to start working on the stigma from the CEO of the organization. Because when everybody else realizes that the CEO is on board, that’s when people are going to start talking about it. That’s when the stigma is going to go down, that’s when awareness is going to increase, there’s going to be more empathy in the workplace. And we can make a big difference.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of a guy called Chuck Robbins, I don’t expect you have but he’s the CEO of a company called Cisco Systems. Which is an information technology organization that’s based in the US and a couple of years ago, it had a total of approximately 75,000 employees worldwide. Chuck Robbins, who’s a fairly young CEO. He was in a conversation with someone, I don’t know if it was a colleague or a family member. But he heard about someone who’d committed suicide, and it really touched him.
And what he did was he sent an email to all 75,000 employees of Cisco, simply saying that we need to start prioritizing our mental well being. And within I think, 24 hours, he had about 100 responses, which is not a lot out of 75,000. But it’s 100, more than would ever have happened without his email of employees actually talking about issues that they were having. And since then he’s had many more. And I think he’s a standard example of what top people in organizations need to be doing.
Unfortunately, the argument that I’m always faced with when it comes to the CEOs don’t have time for this. It’s not that they need to attend the workshops and go and talk to everybody. They just need to have their face on the issue. The employees need to just know that whoever their person is, is on board. And it will filter down and, and people will start talking about it. And employees won’t be suffering in silence, they will feel that they can go and talk to whoever their reporting line requires them to talk to.
Therapy Appointments do your managers know or should they know.
Saying that you’ve got a therapy appointment with your psychologist on Thursday and you can’t go to the meeting. Should be as easy as saying that you’ve got a therapy appointment with your physio therapist, because you broke your leg five weeks ago. No one worries about saying that and I can’t wait for the day that we do get there.
I guess it does get back to the manager, I’ve seen a lot of disability claimants who have been referred to ICAS. And their managers are always aware of that. You know, they’re their line managers, their team, leaders, supervisors, everybody generally does know. The colleagues in their team don’t necessarily know about it, but their managers do know about it. So yeah, that fear is, is it’s big, so just don’t do it. I suspect that people might even be more prone to finding their own therapist out of work. So that they don’t have to have their managers be aware of this.
How do you find the balance between work and managing your mental heath and mental illness.
So it’s about getting the balance, right, isn’t it? I mean, obviously for any organization doesn’t matter how small you are. You can be a one-person show like like I am, but the return on investment is why you’re doing it because you need it. You need to produce because you need to make money to survive. I mean, that’s the point of business and I think, you know, what I’m about is not not not ignoring that at all. Not for a second.
I mean, we start talking about special accommodation of people with job accommodation of people with mental illness. That’s quite a big topic all on its own. And I always emphasize that the very first and most important consideration is whatever that special accommodation is. It must not place the employer under any undue hardship, because there is a job that needs to be done. So for example, I hear people saying that someone who suffers from let’s just take an example of someone who suffers from a debilitating anxiety disorder. Now, they can only work half days, they can’t work full days. And that’s not reasonable. We talk about special reasonable accommodations. Because what’s the employer then supposed to do with the other half of the day, if that person’s only working a half-day.
So, you know, there’s got to be a lot of consideration from both sides. And, I’m all about just making workplaces more, aware, more inclusive, more understanding, more empathetic, when it comes to having people there with mental illness. And again, to understand that, if you’ve got a mental illness, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do your job. These illnesses are usually relapsing-remitting types of illnesses. So people can be absolutely 100% for a long time. We just need to look at these celebrities that continue to perform and excel in sport and in music, and acting. All these people I mentioned earlier, just have moments when they’re not functioning.
And it’s then when employers need to be empathetic and supportive and understand what’s going on. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be like that forever, and they must get rid of them as quickly as possible on the grounds of incapacity. That’s possibly one of the biggest myths of all. And when it comes to mental illnesses of these people, they can’t work they must go.
It’s a bit like being epileptic, you’re not epileptic, all the time. You’re not having a seizure all the time, you’re having a seizure, maybe once a month, maybe less frequently than that, and in between your seizures, you’re absolutely fine. You’re just as good as the person sitting at the desk next to you. But you do have a condition that comes along from time to time and, affects your ability to work when it does.
How would someone with a mental health or mental illness issues approach their manager maturely.
Well, again, in an ideal world, they would approach their boss just as they would if they had any kind of illness. And they would, they’d explain what their symptoms are. The symptoms of if we talk about depression, the symptoms are physical, psychological and cognitive. So they’d go there and say, from a physical point of view, they’re constantly tired. They often get aches and pains and all of that, psychologically, they’re just feeling done. They’re feeling emotional. They’re feeling irritable. From a cognitive point of view, they’re feeling that they can’t concentrate, they’re forgetful. They can’t make decisions anymore, can’t solve problems, just can’t focus their attention. And they’ve explained it all to the manager. The problem is, and again, this is where the education comes in, as the manager is going to be listening to this and thinking, Well, really, I also feel like that sometimes.
So what makes you different? And this is why they don’t go and tell them. If I can make the analogy again, if you go in, you’ve been off work for four for six months. Because you had a catastrophic motor vehicle accident and you lost an arm and a leg. You don’t need to explain all of that. Your employer, your manager you can see it, that obviously, it’s going to take you longer to get going in the morning. You’re going to have to go to your therapy appointments, and there’s lots of sympathy. There’s lots of accommodation, don’t worry, there’s almost too much sometimes that it gets taken advantage of, you know, just come to work when you can. And, you know, if there’s anything you need come and ask us,
But for the person with the mental illness, that’s where the challenge starts, right there. Is that they’re going to try and explain something to a person. Who’s going to be listening to them and thinking, I don’t know, is this person putting it on? There is a responsibility on people with mental illness, to help other people understand as well. There is a responsibility on them, but there’s, there’s so much fear about it. At work, they can be very good at explaining it to their family, and, and even their friends. But when it comes to work, there’s, more at risk there.
It’s such a difficult one, and in terms of what the HR person should be saying back. And how they or the manager, what they should be saying to the person, there’s all sorts of things that they should be saying. And they should not be saying, for example, don’t say that chamomile tea is going to solve all your problems, and everything’s going to be fine. But they’ve got to understand that. So, it’s really the, the approach should be just like it is for anything else. If you’re at work and you’re not feeling well, you need to go to whoever is up the line from you and explain it to them. And you’ve got to hope that they understand it and are supportive and empathetic. And sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.
Loadshedding mental heath or mental illness.
And I’m working my way through companies trying to give them some more of those skills that help to accommodate a person with mental health or mental illness. I’ve listed eight items, and it’s according it’s called load shed.
- L :: line of reporting, who do you need to report to.
- O :: Time off, do you need to take time off.
- A :: Assistive devices, do you need a device to assist you to do your job.
- D :: Duties, can you do your duties.
And I’ve done it all according to loadshedding, because that’s a little bit what special job accommodation is, it’s about shedding the load from the person who’s not well, to allow them to continue to perform their role in the organization with that organization suffering.
Click the picture to listen to our interview with Lesley Burns about mental health or illness in the workplace.