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What does it mean to Support Illness?

The Support Illness building block reduces barriers to employees seeking help and provides readily accessible mental health support for employees.

To support employees experiencing mental illness, organisations need to provide an encouraging environment in which mental health stigma is actively reduced to enable employees to seek assistance. Once an employee experiencing mental illness seeks assistance, organisations need to ensure they help employees access an appropriate mental health support service and establish supportive working conditions so that they can attend the service.

Key strategies

Research shows us there are three main areas workplaces can act on to have a strong supporting illness focus1,2

  • reduce mental health stigma
  • remove barriers to support, and
  • provide employee assistance programs.

Fact

Escalating mental health issues result in significant employee leave, which currently costs Australian organisations $1.54 billion in lost productivity.3

Why is it important to Support Illness?

Supporting working employees at the early stages of a mental health issue helps lessen recovery time and reduces their time away from work.4

Appropriately supporting employees experiencing mental illness demonstrates to other employees that the organisation is committed to employee well-being which, in turn, strengthens employee commitment to the organisation, increases productivity and decreases turnover. 5  

Research reveals employees experiencing mental illness often encounter organisational barriers when trying to access support and treatment. One of the biggest barriers employees experiencing mental illness face is stigma in their workplace.

A recent Australian survey revealed 43% of employees with mental health issues believe they experienced stigma with respect to mental health in their work environment.6

In order to support employees in the early stages of a mental ill-health, workplaces need to actively and continually reduce the stigma around mental health.7 By reducing stigma, employees are more likely to approach someone at work about their mental ill-health. Along with proactively reducing mental health stigma, research highlights leaders need to maintain open communication with employees experiencing mental ill-health to demonstrate that they can and want to help.8

Fact

According to a recent Australian report, only 15% of Australian employees report that their leaders proactively encourage and promote mental health policies and practices.9

Research-backed strategies to Support Illness in your workplace

Enable employees to readily access mental health support by removing barriers to seeking help.

Reduce mental health stigma

Research reveals that the stigma surrounding mental health requires continual open discussion if it is to be challenged and ultimately removed. Workplaces are encouraged to continually challenge stigma by opening dialogue on mental health and well-being. Employees, in turn, are urged to confidentially disclose their own mental health issues and approach colleagues they may be concerned about.10

Research has shown that the following strategies assist with reducing stigma:11,12

  • placing posters and flyers about mental health around the workplace;
  • providing resources that include personal stories of mental illness;
  • talking about mental health to the whole of organisation and at team meetings; and
  • taking part in well publicised mental health events, such as R U Ok? Day and the national mental health week.

Resource

For information on mental health stigma reduction strategies, educational displays and events please see our guide.

Remove barriers to support

It is critical to ensure that employees who disclose a mental illness can access support. Leaders should be able to advise employees who disclose a mental illness about the support available to them (e.g. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), local GP, private mental health professionals), the services offered and assist them with accessing the support, if requested.13 Leaders should also report back to their human resources department any areas of difficulty in accessing support faced by their team members, so that policies and practices can be continually assessed and improved.

Employees should be able to access appropriate medical support when they first notice signs or symptoms of mental ill health. For many, contacting their local doctor (GP) is an important first step to recovery. GPs can make a mental health assessment, develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan if necessary, and refer to more specialised mental health support services (such as psychologists or psychiatrists) where appropriate. Getting help early can make a difference, so it is important that organisations reduce barriers to support. This may involve allowing employees to work flexible hours to enable them to attend appointments for diagnosis or treatment.

The following strategies help employees to engage with support services:

  • ensure all employees receive information on how to access support services;
  • ensure leaders receive training in what services the EAP offers as well as their role in facilitating an employee accessing the support services;
  • ensure leaders are trained in the role of doctors in treating mental health issues; and
  • allow the employee flexibility in hours so that they can access the EAP or attend appointments with their doctor or mental health professionals.

Resource

For information on removing barriers to support strategies, please see our guide.

Resource

Think Mental Health have developed a comprehensive list of additional mental health services that individuals can access for support.

Offer an Employee Assistance Program

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a service offered through workplaces which provides professional mental health support to their employees.14 Most EAPs offer confidential counselling from mental health professionals, including Psychologists and Counsellors. EAP providers can assist employees who are experiencing both personal and work-related issues – including mental health issues, substance abuse, relationship concerns, stress or financial concerns.15,16 Most counselling services can be offered to employees (and often their immediate families) either in person or via telephone or video conferencing.

To be of most benefit an EAP should be:

  • completely confidential and accessible to all employees;
  • advertised regularly and materials included in new employee/leader inductions;
  • evaluated and usage tracked with anonymous feedback from users; and
  • able to provide support to all employees in the aftermath of a critical incident.

When selecting an EAP, it is important to consider the following:

  • choose an EAP provider who is endorsed by the Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia;
  • choose an EAP provider with services appropriate for the organisation and/or industry; and
  • implement a regular evaluation of the EAP’s effectiveness to evaluate the impact and appropriateness of the program for the workplace.

Resource

For information on Employee Assistance Programs and how to select an appropriate provider, please see our guide.

Fact

A return on investment (ROI) calculated for an average Employee Assistance Programs indicated that for every dollar spent on the program, there is an expected return of between $5.17 and $6.47.17

References

  1. Hanisch, S. E., Twomey, C. D., Szeto, A. C., Birner, U. W., Nowak, D., & Sabariego, C. (2016). The effectiveness of interventions targeting the stigma of mental illness at the workplace: a systematic review. BMC psychiatry, 16(1).
  2. Richmond, M. K., Pampel, F. C., Wood, R. C., & Nunes, A. P. (2017). The impact of employee assistance services on workplace outcomes: Results of a prospective, quasi-experimental study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(2), 170-179.
  3. Brouwers, E. P., Terluin, B., Tiemens, B. G., & Verhaak, P. F. (2009). Predicting return to work in employees sick-listed due to minor mental disorders. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 19(4), 323-332.
  4. Hargrave, G.E., Hiatt, D., Alexander, R, & Shaffer, I.A. (2008). EAP treatment impact on presenteeism and absenteeism: Implications for return on investment. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 23(3), 283-293.
  5. Corrigan, P. W., Morris, S. B., Michaels, P. J., Rafacz, J. D., & Rüsch, N. (2012). Challenging the public stigma of mental illness: a meta-analysis of outcome studies. Psychiatric services, 63(10), 963-973.
  6. Lagerveld, S. E., Bültmann, U., Franche, R. L., Van Dijk, F. J. H., Vlasveld, M. C., Van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, K. (2010). Factors associated with work participation and work functioning in depressed workers: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 275-292.
  7. Lagerveld, S. E., Bültmann, U., Franche, R. L., Van Dijk, F. J. H., Vlasveld, M. C., Van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, K. (2010). Factors associated with work participation and work functioning in depressed workers: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 275-292.
  8. Clement, S., Schauman, O., Graham, T., Maggioni, F., Evans-Lacko, S., Bezborodovs, N., … & Thornicroft, G. (2015). What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies. Psychological medicine, 45(1), 11-27.
  9. Stuart, H. (2016). Reducing the stigma of mental illness. Global Mental Health, 3, 17-31.
  10. Corrigan, P.W., Morris, S.B., Michaels, P.J., Rafacz, J.D. & Rusch, N. (2012). Challenging the public stigma of mental illness: a meta-analysis of outcome studies. Psychiatric Services, 63 (10), 963–973.
  11. Wang, J., Patten, S., Currie, S., Sareen, J., & Schmitz, N. (2011). Perceived needs for and use of workplace accommodations by individuals with a depressive and/or anxiety disorder. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(11), 1268-1272.
  12. Richmond, M. K., Pampel, F. C., Wood, R. C., & Nunes, A. P. (2017). The impact of employee assistance services on workplace outcomes: Results of a prospective, quasi-experimental study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(2), 170-179.
  13. Nunes, A. P., Richmond, M. K., Pampel, F. C., & Wood, R. C. (2017). The Effect of Employee Assistance Services on Reductions in Employee Absenteeism. Journal of Business and Psychology,33(6), 699-709.
  14. Hargrave, G.E., Hiatt, D., Alexander, R, & Shaffer, I.A. (2008). EAP treatment impact on presenteeism and absenteeism: Implications for return on investment. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 23(3), 283-293.
Next step

Accommodate Illness

The Accommodate Illness building block increases the capability of leaders to provide structured, tailored psychological injury management and return to work programs.