Far too often when discussing the attributes of workplace health and safety the focus is turned to the physicality and more observable conditions that exist.
The attention is placed on fixing the switches that are visibly broken, mopping up the liquid that spilled or teaching the employees to insert tab A into slot B to avoid a catastrophe from occurring. Engineers are able to recognize internal problems from sounds emitted from machines, and take it apart and rebuild it like it was new.
The harder task though for health and safety managers is recognizing what is affecting the internal programming of the operators.
The individual’s mind and inner psyche is more unique from one person to the other more than any outward appearances that we display. Working to understand and help these people creates a better person, increased health and safety in the workplace, and lends to increased cost savings for your company.
The World Health Organization has broken down the costs associated with mental health disorders in the United Kingdom per year as follows. £8.4 billion in sickness absence, £15.1 billion in reduced productivity, and £2.4 billion in replacement personnel. These numbers are expected to increase over time if companies don’t employ actions to address these issues in a more proactive manner, and in conjunction with preserving the dignity and privacy that employees deserve.
Health and safety personnel need to implement policies and programs for addressing mental health concerns just as they would any physical safety concerns.
Mental disorders are the leading cause of disabilities. In high income countries reporting incidents, 40% of disabilities can be attributed to mental disorders. The biggest indicator has to be understanding what are considered mental disorders, and examples of how they can lead to physical issues. It is most probable that you know or have dealt with it on a personal level, or worked with people that have tried to cope with these mental health disorders.
Distorted body image that can lead to anorexia or other eating disorders. Postpartum depression, grief, bi-polar, PTSD, phobias and stigmatisms. Anxiety that interferes with your daily actions, dementia, AD/HD and obsessive compulsive disorders will impact typical daily functions. Even being overly optimistic can be considered a mental disorder when it, as well as the other disorders affect the moods, thinking processes and the behaviors of the individuals.
The goal we wish to address is to raise awareness levels within companies of how important mental health is. It is just as important a health and safety concern as any physical ailment.
It is understandably hard to bring to the surface the issues a person is trying to hide or even self-realize. The best method to help an individual is to apply the 4R system, recognize, respond, reaffirm and re-align.
Recognize the behaviors that each person is displaying. From past experiences you can set a standard bar for how a person is acting today versus when they were in a positive attentive mood.
Recognizing is accepting and acknowledging actions. This gives validity to the person displaying the actions, as well as to the receptive person. It helps to make it real.
Responding is more than a head nod. Whether as a co-worker, or as a manager. To be an affirmation you have to be a sounding board to the person in question. If you need to partner with a third party to protect yourself, then do that, because responding can allow the individual to unload. When embarking on a journey, the first step is always the hardest, but it is the most necessary step to take, responding allows that to happen to the person struggling.
Reaffirming gives the person in question acceptance that it is okay to have feelings, and that getting help is a confident decision. This also gives acknowledgement that the issue will be held in confidence.
Re-aligning is the step that you hand off to the affected individual. The assistance they need has to come from a health industry professional. Never attempt to fully heal the individual without the help of an educated expert. By recognizing, responding and reaffirming their actions with them, to then re-align should come naturally and easier because of your actions. Re-aligning can mean time away, or simply as an off the premise after hour function.
Too often not addressing the issues that are evident may seem easy to avoid. In actuality the effects can be devastating to the individual and the group as a whole. People affected by mental health issues that go unaddressed will progressively decline in work performance. Subjects will see higher error rate, poor decision making, increased grief, employee conflict, and absenteeism among other things.
Physical attributes will arise from ignoring the signs. Weight gain and loss, insomnia, stress induced heart issues such as high blood pressure. Immunity deficiencies are also impacted by the body’s reaction to mental health disorders, and this can lead to sickness, disability and early retirement.
The stigma that comes from mental health disorders is hard enough for individuals to cope with. Social exclusions, anxieties and the sort can lead to drug dependency and even suicide in extreme cases. Any supportive role that someone can make towards an individual will make an enormous difference, an unsupportive role can have the same affect in a negative manner.
With the variety of help available, corporate, legislative, clinical and personal, we as individuals and as a group can lend a more supportive hand in making a difference. The fact is that these issues hit us all a little closer than we care to believe.
If you believe that you, a family member, friend or co-worker is suffering from a mental disorder, and you would like to learn more, please check for information that can lead to help at the Mental Health Foundation, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week