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Hidden in plain sight

The trinidad Guardian / There have been some interesting responses to the workplace mental ill health features since I began writing about that issue to commemorate World Mental Health Day (October 10). The theme for this year is Mental Health in the Workplace and with my research interest being people attending work while ill, I have embarked on this series among other interventions.

One would probably assume the high level of interest and engagement by readers is because each of us knows one person in the workplace whom we suspect as living with a disorder. Or it may be that we’ve recognised that most people we know have episodic mental ill health whether it is stress, PMS, depression or unhealthy responses to personal problems.

Some people’s input to my writing at times appear to be purely a point of resistance for the manager who has to draw sharp lines of discipline or maybe for the supervisor whose behaviour does not conform with what makes others comfortable. But a few others have articulated circumstances that genuinely seem to need some sort of care or intervention.

I relate to and write lucidly on both sides of the issue because I have been both a peculiar employee and an intemperate and harsh manager. I may have been regarded as the all round “mental case” by peers and subordinates, too.

But none of what I have read in my inbox-the recognition and resistance of the problem personality, the gossip or labelling – does much in the realm of tolerance. The hands-off conduct by organisations which do not create and implement criteria for intervention where issues are plainly problematic perpetuates problems in the workplace.

Often, there is an issue in plain sight that needs management or intervention and no one lifts a supportive or educated finger to lend assistance. A lot of that can be explained by the secrecy that surrounds mental ill health and the reluctance by all to intervene in an issue laden with fear and ignorance. Quite a bit of non-response comes from the lack of training of staff to understand and respond to the specific issues.

Among the responses to the series, the most encouraging have been those emails from human resource personnel, and senior managers. The most interesting and supportive ones come from a number of health and safety professionals who are beginning to make the connection that psychological ill health provisions and interventions are equally important in the workplace.

Health and safety instructions are available for all kinds of emergencies but who amongst your staff is trained and equipped for psychological first response? Who among the employees know what to do if a member of staff lives with or is having a mental health crisis?

What is in the first aid kit at your workplace for the person who is breaking down under the weight of a psychological or psychiatric issue as depression, substance abuse, intimate partner violence or stress?

One very enthusiastic response to the recent series commended the opening up of the conversation like this:

“Thank you for dealing with a subject area that is a serious matter that no one seems to want to touch. I hope you’d speak about the office psycho.”

That is how the problem is perceived by many. I tried to engage the author to get a perspective and possible even signpost the organisation to a better way of thinking of the problem, but got no response.

We need to urgently begin to talk openly about these problems. There is no escaping that organisations would have to be compelled to offer workplace leadership and interventions as, increasingly, we have ill health as a daily workplace challenge “hidden in plain sight.”

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