According to a Health Canada report, 1 in 10 Canadians showed symptoms of mental illness in 2004. And 30 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 44 years old are likely to be affected by its symptoms.
What kind of tools can better help employers to detect mental illness in order to respectfully intervene when need be?
Seeing the signs
The Mental Health: A workplace Guide tells us that repeated absences, delays and sick leaves are often the first clues in detecting a mental illness, be it depression, anxiety or something else. These frequent absences are often reflected in annual performance evaluations.
At the same time, absences may also be the reasoning for the less assiduous employees at work. How can employers make the blurred distinction between the “lazy” employee and the one dealing with a mental illness?
The employer must relate these absences with other behavioural traits he is seeing in his employee. Excessive fatigue, for example, can affect performance and cause a lack of enthusiasm in the employee. He may also be showing signs of isolation and distance from his colleagues. “A difficulty in focusing or paying attention may be an indicator of a problem,” says Barbara Veder, Clinical Director at Shepell-fgi.
Unusual work mistakes or sudden physical changes such as weight loss or weight gain can also be symptomatic. The key is to note these changes in behaviour. If these characteristics were already present before, these signs are not any more revealing than personality traits.
Don’t psychoanalyse the situation
Once the employer notices these types of changes in the employee, he must show restraint when it comes time to deal with the issue. An employer should never pretend to be a psychologist and, above all, must avoid talking about his findings to his employee! An employer’s role is to discuss the changes he has seen in the employee’s work habits and advise the latter to consult with a doctor that specializes in mental illnesses. “The manager should give the worker the opportunity to resolve the problem and get back to work,” insists Karen Liberman, director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.
There are two good reasons for why it is preferable for an employer not to play the role of a confidant. Firstly, it is to preserve the employee’s dignity, and secondly, to protect him in the long-term.
After all, where is the advantage of confiding in someone who detains the power to fire you?