Since 2008, July has been promoted as Minority Mental Health Month. It aims to raise awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness. In this blog I explore some of the minority groups and how their mental health is affected by and affects them at work.
Does your workplace assume that employees are ‘skiving’ when not at work or on booked leave? Do you manage performance and absence through disciplinary procedures? If so, adversarial Human Resource (HR) policies may inadvertently be increasing absence and presenteeism by contributing to the severity and duration of mental health symptoms in employees from minority groups.
The UK Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS)i found that black adults had the lowest treatment rate of any ethnic group, at 6.2% (compared to 13.3% in the white British group). We know from our collaborations in the Far East that mental ill health still carries a stigma and that sufferrers are unlikely to seek support or treatment outside the community. It is essential that we move towards People Policies that generate a climate of trust and respect and facilitate employees to be as well as possible, for example through flexible medical appointment policies for all. Poor workforce diversity leaves minority groups feeling they ‘have not been understood’.
One adult in six, (17%), suffers a common mental disorder (CMD) with a growing number of women (20% in 2014) and 12% in men. Are women represented proportionately in your workplace or do they represent a minority? When employers enable women to feel well at work they experience an increase in creativity and productivity.
Young employees (under the age of 25) are often a forgotten minority in the workplace, but they are the lifeblood and future of an organisation. They bring new ways of thinking, working and a different approach to technology. However, young people are still in the experimental phase of life, which leads to risk taking and impulsive behaviour. Add that to the fact that over 20% of girls and 8% of boys are coming into the work place with existing mental health problems, half of whom had considered or attempted suicide. It is clear that this group needs to be nurtured and looked after to get the most from them.
I first met and was inspired by Jonathan Andrews, a young award-winning Diversity and Social Mobility Champion when we both spoke at the Health and Wellbeing at Work Exhibition in 2017. He has subsequently represented the UK the Global Disability Summit, co-producing their Youth Charter.
Young people are also usually new to both the workplace and work itself and will be facing unfamiliar risks from the job they will be doing and from their surroundings. The Health & Safety Executive recommends psychological assessment to ensure a young person understands what is expected of them, checking they understand and are able to remember and follow instructions combined with the necessary training, prompting, support and supervision.
Traditional wellbeing services range from employee assistance programmes to private medical insurance and occupational health plans. But these are reactive strategies, designed to support employees in a crisis. The increase in recognition and rise in employment of people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, ADHD and long term and fluctuating mental health conditions means that employers need to consider not just preventative strategies, but proactively create an inclusive environment that does not disadvantage or punish an employee for the way they function, look or behave.
Many technology and engineering employers are now actively recruiting people who have extremely specialist skills and expertise ranging from attention to detail to the ability to remain on task till a job is finished. TV programmes such as Employable Me have taken the ratings by storm both in the UK and the USA. However, these strengths are accompanied by their experience of the world a little differently and employers are finding that they need to review the way that they measure performance of people who do not fit into the modern ‘corporate behaviours, culture and values’ HR models, e.g. developing self and others, embracing change, working with people all of which assume a neurotypical biochemistry.
LGBTQ+ and Mental Health
Research suggests a direct correlation between lack of acceptance and suicidality. Nearly 40% of young people under 24 who identify as LGBTQ+ have seriously considered suicide in the last year. Figures 1 and 2 show how comfortable respondents from different countries feel about having a colleague at work who is: a) gay, lesbian or bisexual (EU28, 2015) or b) transgender or transsexual (EU28, 2015). In contrast only 8% of LGBTQ+ youth who did not face challenge to their sexual orientation or identity attempted suicide.
Employers who wish to benefit from the diversity and talent within the LGBTQ+ community can benchmark with practices in the sectors, including Psychology, Events, Law, Communications, Media, and Social work, considered to be in the Top 10 professions.
Studies have shown that queer youth rely on the internet and social media more than their cisgender or heterosexual peers to find information and support about mental health.
The law of unintended consequences
I researched this blog expecting to find out about innovative and creative ways to support and develop the minority workforce. Instead, what I have found is that acceptance, inclusion and flexibility is the common thread to building an engaged, respectful and trusting work environment, which enables employees, regardless of some arbitrary demographic, to be the best they can be.
I propose that wellbeing initiatives need to go beyond the traditional intervention model, and instead need to be embedded into an organisation’s people policies ranging from flexible working practices which plan and provide for cover unplanned issues and incidents to career break policies, previously called sabbaticals and restricted to elite and long-standing staff, to prevent employees from quitting their job or profession altogether and the loss of knowledge and skills that results.
The challenge is to be able to measure and demonstrate return on investment for those organisations where wellbeing is part of the compliance or risk management strategy.
And that is where Lumien from Evolyst can certainly help employers. It can address that gap in employee wellbeing by providing data measurement together with resources and support when it comes to minority mental health. Companies can start the conversation by checking the ‘mental health temperature’ of their employees with real evidence on their approach to minority mental health.