by Paula Smith
We know that one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some time in our life so that makes for a fair few of us working in today’s society. Those suffering do not carry a banner or a special hat but we know they are present and we may even be a sufferer ourself. Work is important for all of us for the obvious reasons of keeping up with the cost of living but also for our place in society. Work helps us to achieve a sense of worthiness and promotes our self-esteem. For people struggling with mental health problems holding down a job creates extra challenges.
The cost to our economy is substantial from absent workers but what about the cost to our already fragile mental health? Although people are becoming increasingly informed of mental health problems and the effect on the individual, there is often still a stigma attached to being mentally ill. Shifting this stigma is a work in progress and will certainly not happen overnight. Efforts are being made to draw awareness to mental health problems with initiatives such as ‘Declaration’, which was held in March and highlighted human rights.
Other events with mental health as its core theme include ‘The Scottish mental health arts and film festival’ which is supported by Creative Scotland and See me Scotland. This will happen in October with Mental health awareness day being celebrated on the 10th until the 30th. The theme this year is ‘time’. Such festivals not only outline the problems that sufferers from mental health problems encounter but seek the public to be actively involved. Film and the creative arts are universal and invite everyone to take part.
Talking about mental health and feeling like some of the issues are close to home promote awareness and tolerance. The emergence of ‘Tea and talk’ make what is often a difficult subject to discuss more obtainable and ‘normalized’. Everyone can relate to tea and chatter and the idea will encourage people to reach out to one another. However such events on their own have no value unless attitudes change and people feel less stigmatized.
Has all this new awareness changed things in the work place? Certainly there are more training programs for bosses and employees stating how the mental health sufferers should be treated with equality and respect. ‘Healthy working lives’ provides courses for the workplace with an emphasis on the worker, their rights and expectations. Such courses offer a wealth of knowledge and if advice is implemented can make some real changes in the work place.
According to S.A.M.H. many employers now have positive policies on disability and equality at work and the risks of dismissal and discrimination are less. The work place has a duty of care under the health and safety legislation to take care of their employees. Therefore, the raised awareness has produced benefits and many employees are now disclosing their problems and conditions to their employers although it is the choice of many not to do so. Reasons include being treated differently, as less competent and being at the receiving end of unfair conditions for example a lesser work load or not being considered for a promotion. Employees who feel that they have been treated unfairly in the work place because of a mental health problem can contact the C.A.B. or the Scottish equality and human rights commission.
Everyone has the right to optimal mental health and a platform for increased self-esteem through work. The people in our society are exposed to events and forums which encourage understanding and tolerance. We still have a long way to go in tackling stigma but the right message is being constantly sent to us and if we practice comprehension then the conditions for people in the work place with mental health problems will only get better.