I was watching ‘Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions’ a TV programme based on people with mental health difficulties who decide to tell their work colleagues about their mental health. The programme shows the emotional anxiety people go through when they tell their colleagues that, to all intents and purposes, they are different. It demonstrates how mental health is one of the most difficult stigmas to overcome. Ruby Wax’s agenda is to reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace as she explains her own battles with depression.

I want to explore further why mental health is such a stigma and the impact it has in recruitment and employment. I want to understand what issues there may be about recruiting and employing people with mental health issues and what positives there are in a recruitment policy that seeks to be inclusive.

Many employers expect high levels of absence, below average performance and difficult management challenges from people with mental health difficulties. As a consequence people with mental health issues, suffering from such conditions as bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, are widely discriminated against in finding employment, as a result there is a fear of disclosure. To combat this fear of disclosure research reports advise employers to accommodate and support people with mental health. It is acknowledged, however, that this requires adaptability and significant levels of support by the employer. So what is the business case for an inclusive approach to mental health?

1. Statistics

Shockingly and often without the employer being aware, 1 in 4  people in theUK will experience a mental health episode in the course of a year and women are more susceptible than men. This means that there are a lot of people who fear disclosure and exclusion from employing such people does not guarantee that an employer won’t accidentally employ someone with mental health issues.

2. Talent Management

The television programme highlighted three people in a range of work environments all of them with high profile roles. A marketing executive and entrepreneur, a successful London chef, an industrial designer and of course Ruby Wax herself. Each of them clearly showed they were battling with their mental health but crucially within their field of work they are extraordinary. So would any employer really want to overlook such talent? Having an exclusive culture produces more of the same, until the danger is of creating a lookalike ‘old boys network’, but spotting genuine talent and managing it is critical to an organisation’s success.

3. Impact on the Workforce

I found the programme emotional and captivating as a key part was seeing the three people disclose to their colleagues and managers their mental health difficulties. The reactions of those people who witnessed the disclosure all seemed to be genuinely moved that they had the courage and confidence to disclose. It is this ‘grass roots approach’ that builds communities within the workforce and supports and develops positive and inclusive culture. People wanting their colleagues to be comfortable in their shared environment and being supportive undoubtedly spills into supporting the requirements of the work, which will drive up performance.

4. Recommended Advice

Organisations such as Mind, Time to change and the CIPD provide a range of top tips for how to support people with mental health difficulties including:

– Flexible working to enable employees to manage their own health

– Understanding staff needs so that managers can be proactive to an employee’s needs

– Companies providing managers with knowledge in order that they are informed and can support employees with an open mind

– Maintaining good employee engagement

– Awareness of stress levels within employees

Each of the advice points are all about creating a positive organisational culture. Therefore, supporting people with mental health issues should be no different to best practice people management.

Clearly, in order to enable a more positive work environment for approximately 1 in 4 employees, some of whom will clearly be considered the key talent of an organisation: I believe there is a strong business case for inclusivity and supporting people with mental health in the workplace.

Ruby Wax’s website: http://www.blackdogtribe.com/