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Study calls for overhaul of workplace mental health care

The study authors say that since there are so many people with mental disorders, it's "irrational" for employers to not want to hire them. Keystone

Swiss researchers have found that while mental health disorders affect some 20% of the workforce, supervisors rarely have the training to detect problems or take action soon enough.

This content was published on April 10, 2017 - 20:14 and agencies/cl

Researchers from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and Psychiatry Baselland interviewed 1,524 supervisors from German-speaking Switzerland for their study, which was aimed at better understanding problems faced by managers of employees experiencing mental health problems.

Just over 80% of the supervisors were able to recall a past experience with a mentally ill employee, but only one in five reported seeking help from a doctor. In 80% of cases, the end result was a breakdown of the employment relationship.

The study authors state that this would be less likely to happen if managers recognised employee mental health disorders earlier on, but few have the training to do this. Because they are unprepared to deal with psychological issues, often what supervisors perceive as signs of the beginning of a problem – such as conflicts, absenteeism, taking sick leave, or drunkenness – may actually be manifestations of an advanced and escalating mental illness. They may also not recognise that inappropriate behaviour, obsessions, narcissism, or anxiety can be manifestations of a personality disorder.

Employment dilemma

Paradoxically, 90% of the supervisors interviewed said they’d be relieved if an employee told them they had a mental health disorder, yet 60% said they would not hire someone who disclosed such a disorder during an interview. The study authors note that this is a dilemma that must be reassessed, as it encourages employees to conceal mental health issues.

They conclude that voluntary measures for mental health care in the workplace are not enough, and call for binding measures to be implemented by employers, including training for both managers and staff. They also call for companies to develop specific guidelines for the treatment of employees with mental health disorders that go beyond preventative measures. They emphasise that external support from experts such as psychiatrists must be sought earlier and more often.

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