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HR’s Role in Mental Health Awareness
Human resources (HR) professionals are faced with a lot of tough situations during the course of their careers. One such challenge could be learning that an employee is struggling with mental health issues.
If an HR professional is not properly educated on the subject, their initial reaction to this situation could be a negative one. Is this employee putting their colleagues at risk? And are they even capable of doing they job they’ve been hired to do?
But the idea that those who struggle with their mental health are dangerous or unproductive is simply false. While it may seem like a complicated situation, human resources departments can and should do a few simple things to mitigate the problem.
Eliminate Stigma, Increase Awareness
The first thing that HR departments should do to help employees struggling with their mental health is to educate themselves and the workforce at large. Most of the stigma around mental health exists because of misunderstandings, misrepresentation, and misinformation. This stigma makes it very difficult for people to ask for help.
Despite the fact that mental health is not well understood, it is incredibly common. It is estimated that one in five Americans will experience mental health issues at some point in their life. But for whatever reason – fear of repercussions, cost, or simply going undiagnosed – only one third of these people will receive treatment. This is because there is a tendency for those who admit that they have a mental health challenge to experience negative reactions ranging from fear to denial. Some are even fired.
The truth is that mental health problems are health problems first and foremost. You would never question the validity of a cancer diagnosis, but people with depression, anxiety, and other disorders are often told to “get over it” or “power through.” But the brain is like any other organ in the body. When it’s sick, it needs to be treated. Sheer willpower does not cure the common cold, so it will not fix a mental health disorder.
Teaching your workforce the basics of these mental health challenges, and dispelling the myth that people with these conditions are dangerous, will help to create a much safer environment for people who are struggling. Educate them about non-judgmental phrasing – a stigma-free way to discuss mental health. Ensuring that there isn’t just conversation, but the right conversation, around mental health is the first step to ending stigma.
Even though you can teach people a lot about mental health, it’s important to recognize that only experts can treat and diagnose mental health disorders. There is a lot of nuance in this space, and it is best left to the doctors in the field. In fact, you could do more harm than good if you attempt to take care of it yourself.
What an HR department can do, however, is provide the right resources to employees. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can train management on the best approaches when it becomes clear that someone on their team is struggling with their mental health. They also give telephone consultations and referrals, and can help to start your employees off in the right direction.
Return to Work programs are also a great way to ease someone back into their routine if they’ve had to take some time for their health. Allowing for personalized work hours, the option to work from home, and other flexible working options can make a positive impact on the employee’s productivity. Normalizing this type of flexibility for those who are treating their mental health challenges is also incredibly helpful.
It’s very difficult for someone who has not experienced mental health issues to understand what it is like. And even if you have, experiences vary greatly. So one of the best things you can do is to let someone know that you understand that they’re struggling and want to help, even if you don’t know exactly what they’re going through.
Having someone to talk to is extremely beneficial to people in this position, especially if they’re scared of repercussions. Treat people who struggle with their mental health with understanding and empathy. Try to find solutions to their problems if you can, or just lend an ear if that’s what they need.
You can’t solve everyone’s mental health issues, but HR professionals are in a unique position to help someone on their healing journey. Be a support system and help them to take next steps, all while creating an environment in which they can seek help. It could make all the difference.
If you’re looking for an experienced HR professional who can handle tough situations, reach out to one of our expert consultants today. Or, if you’re looking for a new human resources position, check out our job postings. One of our recruiting consultants will be in touch with relevant opportunities if you choose to apply.