Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

Helping recovery

It will appear to many managers that they loose control once staff have been diagnosed as psychologically ill. Outside or inside organisations, professionals may seem to have control: they provide treatment; they decide how long psychologically ill staff should stay off work, and they determine when staff can return to work. As a result, managers can feel helpless. However, there are actions you, as their manager, can take to facilitate the most efficient and effective recovery of a member of your staff and enable them return to work in a manner which benefits both the individual and the organisation.

Alternatively, you can, where necessary, enable the ill person to develop a satisfying life-style outside their current organisation and, probably, their current job.

What can I do to facilitate recovery?

Psychologically ill staff will not only suffer distress from the symptoms of their illness, but associated difficulties with their economic situation and their concerns about the future. Specifically, they will in all probability be anxious about their finances, housing and benefits.

Housing

Particularly if they live in private rented housing, psychologically ill staff may well experience negative behaviour on the part of their neighbours. Claims may be made to their landlord that the ill person is disruptive and, in extreme circumstances, violent, both in terms of their verbal behaviour and their physical actions. Complaints can lead to legal action, street protests and, ultimately, eviction or a medically unnecessary return to hospital.

As the person’s manager, you may be able to take positive actions, such as

  • Providing legal advice or offering help with obtaining alternative housing; for example, you can ensure that letters from doctors, consultants, psychiatrists and other professionals are provided as quickly as possible
  • Assisting them to make homelessness claims and/or encouraging staff in the organisation to volunteer for homelessness organisations and/or charity collections for the homeless
  • Additionally, you can facilitate the required provision of letters from neighbours or others to support claims for housing transfer or, if homeless, suitable accommodation
  • Where independent living is problematic, you may be able to offer assistance with the move to supported housing or a care home.

These actions will not only help the ill person, but, when such things are communicated along the company grapevine, they will also have a positive influence on staff’s views of the organisation. In general, well staff members are likely to feel reassured to know that, if they were to become psychologically ill, then management would help them.

Positive views of management and the organisation will translate into better trust and confidence in management by staff and then, very possibly, improved organisational performance.

Finance

Many psychologically ill persons suffer increased stress as a result of decreased income. Anxiety about finances can result in deepening depression and/or increased anticipatory anxiety: ‘Will I be able to pay for...’

Finance issues are likely to particularly affect those who have anxiety-depressive illnesses. To give just one example, those experiencing bipolar disorder may, during their manic periods, give away money and/or goods; during their depressive periods, the fear of money problems can consequently deepen.

Financial advice is available from a variety of organisations, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and National Debt lines. Carers, however, can be overwhelmed by the psychological symptoms of the ill person, and may not have the time or energy to seek and act on financial advice. You may be able to provide staff who can help the ill person and/or their families/carers deal with the financial problems. Where managers provide such assistance, it is likely that the reduction in stress levels will increase the speed of recovery and, again, enhance general staff/team morale.

Benefits

Long-term psychologically ill absentees are likely to be eligible for benefits. Benefits which could potentially be claimed include incapacity benefit and a reduction in council tax. You may well be able to help someone, usually the carer, to make the claim on behalf of the ill person.

As their manager, you will probably have reports about the person’s state of health from doctors, consultant psychiatrists, psychologists and other professionals. You can use these, with the permission of the carer and/or the psychologically ill person (if they are able to understand and give permission), to make sure that they make an efficient and effective claim.