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How Mental Illness Lacks the Understanding of a Physical Injury
By: Scott Weston | Jul 7, 2022 | Health and Safety

The scenario we have included below is a true story and re-enacted in a 13 part video based training program we have just produced on Mental Health in the Workplace.

It is an all too familiar tale of the anxiety and stress caused by a mental health injury. Furthermore, it also highlights how many organisations can be quite diligent in their approach to their duty of care towards the physical health and safety of their workers. In contrast however, they are sadly lacking when it comes to the psychological health and safety in their workplace.

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The Physical Injury Scenario

Karen had been at her workplace 3 years when she tripped and fell down a quarter of a flight of steep stairs at her office.

Her workmates, recognising that Karen was in a lot of pain, called an ambulance immediately and she was rushed off to the local hospital where she was diagnosed with:

  • various breaks to her right ankle
  • a badly strained right wrist
  • quite severe bruising around her body.

Whilst in hospital, Karen was blown away with the response from her co-workers, many of whom took the time to visit her following the two operations on her shattered ankle.

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Through the company’s return to work program, Karen was able to return to work early on alternative duties albeit in a moon boot and on crutches.

It was plainly obvious that Karen was still debilitated by her injuries and, because of that, her colleagues were literately falling over each other to assist her when and where they could.

In what had been a pretty ordinary time for her, Karen couldn’t have felt more cared for and supported by her workplace and her work colleagues.

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The Mental Illness Scenario

One of Karen’s co-workers, Emily was not 100% well either, but unfortunately for Emily, she felt anything but supported by her colleagues and her workplace.

The problem was, Emily’s workmates couldn’t see her injuries.

Emily was suffering from a psychological illness and this condition has subjected her to periods of sadness and anxiety and difficulty in concentrating at times.

Rather than benefitting from the level of attention and care from her workplace that Karen was enjoying, Emily was experiencing the exact opposite.

She has been told to; “Cheer up”, “Get over whatever it is that’s bugging you” and that “No one wants to be around a sad sack”.

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Comments that made her withdraw more and more back into her shell. To the point where there was a general perception amongst her workmates, that Emily was more often than not, stuck up, negative and extremely moody.

Unfortunately, Emily never spoke openly about her mental health demons to management or anyone for that matter because she never felt safe to do so.

She feared being stigmatised or discriminated against later. Stigma is an extremely cruel and unacceptable condition that mental health victims have to contend with. As in the case of Emily, the fear of stigma will prevent them from seeking the help and support they so desperately need.

The benefits of a psychologically healthy workplace

It’s a well known fact that when workers are not feeling the best, they can’t work at their best. So apart from legal requirements, maintaining a positive approach to psychological health and safety, just makes good business sense.

It has been proven that a psychologically healthy work environment:

  • Aids in recruiting and retaining good people
  • Enhances productivity
  • Improves employee engagement
  • Encourages creativity and innovation
  • Can lead to higher profit levels.

While the psychological health of the individual is primarily their own responsibility, the workplace can and does play a significant role in their ability to manage their holistic well being.

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Leaders in the organisation are in the strongest position to positively influence a mentally healthy workplace.

They can achieve this by:

  • Creating a culture where everyone feels valued
  • Speaking openly about mental health and emotional well-being
  • Sharing personal experiences and encouraging others to do the same, this can help in reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions
  • Treating mental health as you would physical health
  • Providing regular, honest and constructive feedback
  • Developing your communication and listening skills
  • Rewarding ingenuity and effort
  • Highlighting and communicating team and individual achievements
  • Recognising changes in behaviour due to ill health
  • Providing flexible work arrangements which can assist with reducing work- related stress

For more information on mental health and wellbeing training content, contact us today.