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Equality and Mental Health: How to advocate at work

In an age when worker wellbeing is high on the agenda for most employers, it would be fair to expect fair and equal treatment of all those who experience mental health difficulties in the workplace. However, many people are afraid to be open about their difficulties and ask for help in the workplace, which can be  a result of societal stigma around mental health.

It’s widely believed that stigma around mental health comes as from a lack of  awareness, knowledge and understanding of how mental health difficulties can impact an individual[1]. Therefore, one way  to reduce this stigma, and consequently unequal treatment in the workplace, is to create a genuine environment of openness, advocacy, education, understanding and support for any employees who may experience poor mental health.

people on laptops at work

But how can you advocate for this?

Becoming an advocate for mental health at work

Employers and Leaders

For employers and anyone in a leadership or people management position, it is important to understand that there are laws in place to protect anyone experiencing mental health difficulties from discrimination. Knowledge of these laws, coupled with a broader understanding of mental health, will help leaders to create a safe environment for people in which they can be open and honest about their needs and feelings without judgement or fear of negative repercussion.

The key laws that protect individuals against certain types of discrimination in relation to employment are under The Employment Equality Acts[2]. These laws prevent unequal or unfair treatment of individuals based on a number of grounds including disability, under which mental health difficulties are covered. The act aims to prevent and redress discrimination that can occur when in employment, applying for a job, on work experience or when doing vocational training.

Under these laws, it is also essential that employers and management provide reasonable accommodation to employees who experience mental health difficulties. This might include time to attend HSE appointments that cannot be made outside of working hours or to accommodate a number of work from home days per week for a person living with anxiety, for example.

Something else that can be considered is establishing a budget specifically for mental health support and awareness.  Providing mental health awareness education to employees, particularly those involved in people management, is a great way of helping people understand the nuances of mental health and mental health difficulties. Likewise, investing in an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and actively encouraging employees to use it to maintain their mental wellbeing sets a tone of openness.

If you’re a manager who has used the EAP, you might feel comfortable sharing your experiences of using the service with your team to highlight it’s value and to encourage open conversations around mental health self care.

Another excellent feature to introduce to your business is Mental Health Ambassadors. By encouraging employees with lived experience to share their stories and provide support if needed, you could help to lessen the stigma in your organisation and increase a feeling of safety for anyone who has an experience of mental health difficulty.


Employeesworkers at lunch

If you are eager to introduce a more mental health friendly aspect to your workplace culture, one of the first things you can do is talk to HR or a person in a position of leadership about the changes you would like to see. Highlighting any need for change in this respect is not a criticism, but rather a request that will benefit every employee and the business as a whole.

Another form of advocacy is ambassadorship. If you feel comfortable sharing your experiences with your colleagues, do. You’ll be surprised by the impact one person sharing their story can have.

Of course, if you are placing yourself in the role of an ambassador for equality and mental health, it’s important to set boundaries; an important exercise in your own mental health self care. While you would be advise to educate yourself about mental health, you are not qualified to provide ongoing support, nor should you feel that your time is being compromised by the needs of others. In setting boundaries you are in fact acting as an advocate, leading by example to show that you need to know your limits and that you don’t have to say yes to everything.


Mental Health Training Available for Workplaces

There are a number of training services available for workplaces to compliment the advocacy of an equal workplace for people with mental health difficulties. First responders training would suit employees who wish to provide support to their colleagues in incidences of crisis or distress. It’s almost like a first aid course which equips employees with the skills to assist colleagues who may be having a personal crisis.

Various workshops  and seminars are available for people at all levels within a company both to inspire them to take care of their own mental health and to help them understand mental health difficulties and illness as a broader subject. This is key in removing any illusions or myths about mental illness in a bid to eradicate any stigma that may be present among team members.

Becoming an advocate for mental health and equality in the workplace is an activity that rewards not just you, but everyone involved in the organisation even in their lives outside of work. Whether you are at employer, management or employee level, you can make a difference.






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