Answer: The first step may be to ensure the employee has the capacity, competency, resources, and knowledge to do their job. Sometimes what may appear to be a mental health concern is actually a management or training problem.
Once you have ensured the employee is equipped to do their job, there are several options that may be helpful. Mental Health training programs (such as Mental Health First Aid and The Working Mind) for both managers and employees can improve employee resilience and mental health awareness as well as provide information to help identify the early signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. You could also offer a Peer Support Program. Another positive option would be offering access to an Employee Assistance Program or an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). When an employee goes on disability management, it helps to have experience or expertise in dealing with mental health as it can support the employee to avoid relapse, help them better understand the root cause and help them when they return to work. There are many programs that can help for prevention and support.
Most workplaces in Canada that are medium to large size know of EFAP but there are some smaller organizations that may not be aware or may be hesitant. A good resource to learn more would be EASNA, the Employee Assistance Trade Association. This North American EAP trade association has basic information and research notes on the impact of EAPs. They also offer a purchaser’s guide for those looking to purchase an EAP from an outside provider. The guide gives you information regarding what you should be looking for, including quality assurance.
“Supporting Employee Success” is another tool that has been developed to help employees, health professionals, and employers work together to find successful workplace accommodations. (see the next section for more information).
The “raison d’être” (reason for existence) of the National Standard is mainly to identify things that are happening in the workplace that may cause psychological harm. If these identifiable factors are reduced or controlled in a more effective fashion, it will reduce the stress of employees. We would therefore see a reduction in ill health for employees, including depression and anxiety. However, we know that a lot of employees are dealing with situations where they may be a witness or victim of violence, assault, or threats, and intimidation by customers or other colleagues at work. This is what we call critical incident stress or traumatic stress, and the Standard recommends making sure you can offer those employees access to a peer or professional that has been trained in the area of critical incident stress management.
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) is another website where you can find information on critical incident stress. EAPs often have professionals that have been trained in trauma response and they can go into the workplace and have sessions with employees, sometimes in a confidential group process. This allows people to vent and express their thoughts and feelings with regards to an event early on so that the impact of that trauma will not reside with them for a long period of time and may not contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Depression and anxiety are disorders that can be diagnosed, and EAPs can be a good bridge of support in identifying resources in the community that can solidify the diagnoses and/or begin treatment. It is very important for workplaces to de-stigmatize depression and anxiety. Some of the training currently being offered and supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, such as Mental Health First Aid, does that very effectively. Employees that participate in that two-day training session can easily support each other through peer support. Some EAPs also offer depression care, a specialized psychotherapy for employees facing depression. Many EAP providers also have various programs to support employees and managers.
Sometimes a good work-life balance program can help reduce stress with employees. This particularly helps when there is a conflict between workload and family life requirements.
To summarize, there are organizational and strategic approaches offered in the Standard. There are also outside experts that you can use, such as EAP peer supports. Ultimately, the experience of a worker comes down to the relationship with their manager or supervisor. An emotionally intelligent manager can have a big and positive impact on his/her relationship with his/her team. In many cases, employees with depression and anxiety are not disabled; they merely have conditions that need to be managed so they can stay productive. The point is not to eliminate mental health problems and mental illnesses, but to manage them. This is why you should really look at all angles to get the best approach.