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  • Tim Kastle

Mental Health and HR

Human Resources is the jack of all trades in an organization. They perform tasks of all sizes that don’t fit anywhere else. If accounting can’t manage payroll HR takes it over; if legal can’t verify compliance and other regulatory concerns HR will manage it. HR also takes on the very important role of counseling, helping employees and teams work through problems to regain high rates of productivity.

HR professionals aren’t trained counselors, and many have minimal or no experience in true counseling or therapy. But HR professionals are supposed to help employees through hard challenges. What should they know about mental health? HR workers need to understand their responsibilities and make sure that they can ensure stability and well-being in the workplace.

Mental health problems are extremely common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one in four Americans have been diagnosed with a mental condition. The normalcy of having a mental condition means that HR reps will undoubtedly encounter an employee with a mental illness. So, it is the HR professional’s responsibility to prepare for these encounters and learn how to address these issues in the workplace.

It is very likely that among all the other duties that HR reps come in contact with, mental illness will be very prevalent. It’s important that everyone in HR understands how to act appropriately with regards to mental health. First off, HR reps need to be aware that it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone with a mental illness, unless there is clear evidence that the diagnosed mental illness poses a threat or results in poor performance. Employers must provide accommodations to employees that suffer from mental health issues which could include altered work and break schedules. HR can't fire someone because they “seem'' depressed, they must attempt to work with those with mental illness and prove that they are unfit for employment.

Despite the fact that mental health awareness has been raised, the stigmatism in the workplace still causes many employees to feel uncomfortable admitting their troubles and seeking help. Leaving mental illnesses untreated can cause people to miss work, have low performance, and create less-than-ideal employees. Untreated mental illness costs companies billions of dollars every year, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to train their HR reps to assist employees.

So what is the best way for HR to approach mental health issues? HR reps interested in mental health might consider increasing their knowledge about conditions and appropriate ways to deal with mental illness. HR teams can provide pamphlets, seminars, and learning tools to educate their coworkers on the topic and create a safe space that people feel comfortable confiding in. HR reps can also look into higher education by obtaining a Masters in Mental Health which could only improve their understanding of mental illness and their ability to assist those struggling employees.

HR should let their workers know the employment laws surrounding mental illnesses and inform their potential and existing employees of the regulations surrounding mental illness. HR teams should also fight for more rights for their mentally ill employees to improve the workplace for them and allow them to feel more at ease. Creating a work environment that accepts the reality of mental health issues and provides them with assistance in any way necessary to allow workers to speak up about their troubles, will also improve your company’s overall performance.

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