Iesha Small

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How can managers get the best out of employees with mental health issues?

Tips for employers to support staff with mental health issues so they can do their best work. This post is in support of mental health awareness week. (680 words)

Create a workplace ethos of safety

I have had major periods of depression since I was in my late teens. Generally, when considered over medium to long term it hasn’t affected my overall academic achievement or outcomes at work. I didn’t feel safe disclosing my depression at work until I was in my 30s. Working in an environment where I could tell that staff were valued made all the difference.  My boss was open minded and non-judgmental and we had built a good rapport. I knew she respected my work and didn’t expect things to be perfect. Mistakes were acknowledged but not excessively penalised as the had been in other places I’d worked. This created a place of safety where I felt able to mention – at a time when I was feeling fine- that I sometimes had major depressive episodes but would be able to continue working through them and most people wouldn’t notice.

Listen to what they tell you- not what you think they need

If somebody feels comfortable enough to tell you about their mental health, just listen. Don’t come with any pre conceived notions of what you feel may be useful to them. They are adults and they will tell you. Everybody is different and what works for some people may not work for others.

Ask what they need to be able to do the job to the best of their ability when not 100%

For some people it could be ensuring that a colleague popping in just to say hello during a difficult classes. For others it might be communicating via email for a few days rather than face to face. For others it could just be having the space to mention to a boss or somebody on their team that they having a bad period.

Alongside this – some colleagues may feel overwhelmed during periods of mental ill health. Help them by making it clear which  1 or 2 aspects of their role that they need to focus on at that particular time. Reassure them that the other aspects can wait until they  are closer to their best.

Ask if there are any preventative measures that can be implemented

For me having an office with a window makes a huge difference. I also have a special light that I use during the winter. This helps immensely.

Don’t assume everything is a result of their mental health issue

Sometimes people are just quiet. Sometimes people are tired. Sometimes people are just sad.  Not everything is a result of somebodies anxiety or depression. It can be annoying if people assume that .

Treat them like everybody else

People with mental health issues can do their jobs as effectively as everybody else when they are self a

ware, well prepared and adequately supported (personally and professionally). Aside from some of the hints above, managers need to be aware of the genral motivations and strengths and interests of all their staff.

Be honest about your own vulnerabilities

Maybe you secretly don’t understand how to use a spreadsheet. Perhaps you’ve always found it hard teaching Year 9 history at the end of the day. Appropriately letting staff know that you aren’t infallible will make them feel better about discussing something that is intensely personal and still attracts stigma.

And finally

This goes without saying, but alongside any other personal issues related to staff of sensitive nature- confidentiality if important. Nobody wants to bare their soul then have it repeated back to them by Rob at the photocopier by lunchtime. If you need to tell other people for organisational reasons, let the staff member know beforehand.

Schools are fast moving and pressurised environments. Lets support our staff and make sure they feel safe enough to have a conversation about mental health.

What about if you are a manager or leader with mental health issues? Should you keep it to yourself? That will be the subject of my next blog post.







  • David Edge

    18th May 2016 at 4:58 pm → Reply

    Plus I think “Are there any signs I (the manager) should look out for?” Could be something as simple as “I bite my nails when I start going down”. It’s a win-win for manager and member of staff who may not realise that their problem is manifesting itself and can therefore start their pills again / see the doctor or whatever.

  • Nichola Harrison

    18th May 2016 at 5:29 pm → Reply

    “Don’t assume everything is a result of their mental health issue” – this is vital. I too suffer bouts of depression. Twice it led to a breakdown and me taking time off school on long-term sick leave. I’ve been teaching (in the same school) for 20 years and it’s only been during the last few years that I’ve felt open enough to talk to my principal about it. In fact today during a coaching session with her, I confessed that I had felt I’d lost a degree of credibility with the rest of the staff because of it. We made a plan on how I could get over feeling this way and gain back some control. Fortunately I have a principal who understands but I face many who don’t. The stigma is still attached by some – you’re too weak, you just need to get over it, etc. My greatest downfall is that I don’t ask for help when I need it, therefore having a trusted manager who is able to pick up on the signals that I’m not coping particularly well, is vital. Someone reaching out at your lowest point and who is able to journey through the darkness with you, is priceless.

    • ieshasmall

      31st May 2016 at 9:31 am → Reply

      Trust and asking for help are vital. Some may see admission as weakness but you can’t please everybody and plenty of other people don’t. It’s amazing how many people in positions of power have experienced this or know people in heir family who have once you get talking to them.

  • ieshasmall

    31st May 2016 at 9:23 am → Reply

    Good point, David. For some it’s very visible. Some usually sociable people may stop going to the pub on a Friday. Other’s may start having a more casual style of dress. Some start coming in later- an indication that getting up in the morning has now become a struggle. It’s spotting changes in usual behaviour, I think.

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How can managers get the best out of employees with mental health issues?