I was inspired to write this article as, at the time it was Mental Health Awareness week. I have had an interest in mental health issues for many years. I was trained by MIND several years ago, whilst working as an employed trainer within a Government Agency. I was responsible, along with certain other trainers, for helping to roll out a Mental Health Awareness programme within my organisation. The aim of the programme was to help managers consider whether there may be mental health considerations to be aware of when managing their staff and it gave managers the appropriate ‘tools’ to deal with these, if there were. This enabled them to manage their team members in an appropriate way with due regard to whether the individual had a long-term mental health condition, or even a short-term issue. It also set out to remove the taboo around the subject, especially important in this particular organisation which was a more male-dominated organisation, certainly at an operational level. It is well-known that men, in general, are less likely to speak out about their experiences of mental illness than women are.
The programme’s aim was also to enable employees (including managers) to be confident in speaking out about any mental health issues that were going on for them without fear of being judged negatively. The training programme that I helped to roll out was a huge success and I was surprised to find many people were willing to speak out within the safe training environment about their own mental health issues (past or present) or about how they had family members or friends with mental health conditions. Course attendees felt (and I agreed) that all members of staff should be trained in mental health awareness, not just managers, and this was fed back to the Senior Management Team.
I wonder how many organisations now provide Mental Health awareness programmes? Is your organisation supportive towards people with Mental Health conditions? Perhaps you are one of the 1 in 4 people who experience or have experience mental illness? If so, and support is lacking within your organisation, is there something that you can do to raise this with the ‘powers that be’. It was through the actions of a brave lady, who happened to be in a middle-management position within my organisation that persuaded senior managers that something needed to be done about making managers more aware of mental health issues within the workplace. It helped managers understand that some staff were living with mental health issues and it gave people the ‘permission’ to speak out and share their experiences within a supportive environment. This could be done without the fear of stigma or thinking that they would be made to feel less valued than their colleagues who had not got mental health issues. That manager that started this off was living with a serious mental health condition and had shown that career progression was possible, if people were confident to speak out and they were given the appropriate amount of support and understanding when they did.