HR & Management

Mind control: An improved understanding of mental health conditions

9 min read

21 December 2017

RedArc provides long-term advice and emotional support for people suffering from mental health conditions. We speak with its managing director, Christine Husbands, for our Mind Control series.

Our talk with RedArc‘s managing director places much emphasis on how employers should handle staff with mental health conditions, putting into perspective how the subject should be addressed – and what bosses can expect when staff return from long-term illness.

Do you believe the medical industry is successfully tackling mental health issues?

The medical industry is staffed by extremely dedicated and experienced staff, however, the pressures faced by the NHS means they are not always able to do their best for patients. Mental health resources are particularly stretched with very long waiting lists, so people with mental health conditions can often deteriorate whilst waiting for vital therapies or treatment to start.

In what ways do you invest in charity members’ health and wellbeing?

We work with a variety of national and local charities, including Macmillan, Winstons Wish, Different Strokes, British Heart Foundation and Mind. We take the time to research their work and sign-post our clients to the most appropriate charity.

We also support charities both in the form of donations as well as the purchase of literature and goods for clients, spanning informative books relating to health conditions, workbooks for bereaved children and memory boxes.

We also provide our nurse support to some charities when our expertise is needed such as Care of Police Survivors (COPS) and Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace and we have also provided training to several charities’ staff members.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?

Definitely an independent support service giving confidential support for employees for any physical or mental health conditions. This should be readily available to staff members and easily accessible without having to make a request within the company. This would allow employees to seek help early and avoid unnecessary delays in getting the right help.

In many cases this could prevent an employee from becoming seriously unwell, particularly with mental health conditions. Services can be made available by a wider range of insurances as well as available directly to companies. We’re glad to see many companies offer this and we’d like to see more do so.

How would you advise SME bosses to address staff mental health?

SMEs may be surprised that the same good quality support services are available at a very affordable cost. Many group risk and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP’s) provide support services which provide help for mental health conditions, however, caution is needed as they’re not all the same. Some provide a comprehensive service from a qualified nurse whilst others are a light-touch helpline from non-medical staff.

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

I feel that the taboo is decreasing and this can only be improved by high-profile people such as the Royal princes and Rio Ferdinand talking about their own experiences and supporting mental health initiatives.

Many professions such as the emergency services still have a very macho culture and many employees are reluctant to admit that they have mental health problems in case it is seen as a sign of weakness. However, I have noticed more recognition of the need to change this culture particularly within the police – an organisation where we do a lot of work.

On the next page Husbands touches on the subject of staff returning to work after a long absence.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

Absolutely! Many people say things like “I’m just being silly, I shouldn’t be upset by that” etc. When they are able to talk things through with an understanding professional, they usually realise that their feelings are normal and can start to recognise the issues and work through them. Having someone on hand to support and guide can make all the difference to empowering people.

How can a company make returning to work after a long absence easier for staff?

All too often, employers assume people returning to work after absence for any reason will hit the ground running and be back to normal on day one. Whether the absence has been due to physical or mental health, the employee will naturally be anxious. They are likely to tire easily and find work more challenging than previously. Added to this, there is often a lot of concern about how their colleagues will treat them.

Employers should recognise that returning to work is a big step for staff and must be prepared to be flexible and supportive. However, many employers assume they know how best to help an employee, for example by giving them easy tasks or avoiding responsibility, but this can really upset an employee. Therefore employers can best help by asking what would work for the employee, many are surprised just how simple the answers are!

Additionally, it is very common for good support to be in place for a few days after the return to work, but checking in from time to time in the longer term is really important too.

What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?

I think that this is increasing all the time, by the good work of charities such as Mind as well as public figures talking about it in the media. Health and Wellbeing audits are moving up the corporate agenda with more and more companies employing firms to carry these out, organisations such as CIPD and IIP also promote the importance.

As mental wellbeing is so fundamental to overall health, the increase in audits and recommended solutions will drive an improved understanding of mental health wellbeing. Excellent workplace mental health training is available from many organisations including the charity Mind and a new edition of MHFA Line Manager Resource has recently been issued.

What is the most common misconception?

I think the most common misconception that we encounter, is that it is a sign of weakness, that it’s the individual’s fault that they can’t cope, somehow they are inferior. All of these attitudes fuel the mental health condition and if help is not found can lead to severe long-term problems.

With the right help and support, feelings and concerns can be validated and people can begin to move forward.

How do you unwind after a tough week? Do you have any rituals to improve your mental health?

I find physical exercise and the outdoors is a great antidote to stress. So I go running regularly, get out walking in the Yorkshire dales as well as trying to keep on top of my garden. Exercise and fresh air are great ways to improve mental wellbeing, I also practice mindfulness.

Also, a good laugh with friends or a funny film can really get the happy endorphins flowing!