Conference to heighten mental health awareness

Employers who fail to address health issue lose out in long term, writes Niamh Nolan.

THE lack of understanding in the workplace for workers with mental health problems can cost employers in the long term, a conference on mental health will hear this week.

At a conference entitled Stigma: You Make the Difference, the South-Eastern Mental Health Alliance hopes to raise awareness of the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties and the problems this can cause in the workplace.

Organisers explained that some people with mental illness end up quitting their job rather than reporting their difficulties, leaving employers to foot the cost of recruiting and re-training new employees.

“A lot of people who become unwell don’t report it in work because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and they can even end up leaving their jobs,” Martin Matthews, regional development officer with Schizophrenia Ireland said. “The high cost involved in retraining others could have been avoided if the workload had been reduced or the person given time off for a short period.”

Stress is a factor for many suffering from illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression and changes to a person’s role or responsibilities can have an impact on their mental health.

“Any mental health difficulty starts off as a result of stress and can tend to increase unless it is dealt with,” Mr Matthews said.

While equality legislation allows for “reasonable accommodation” of people with disabilities including mental illness, sufferers are fearful of reporting a particular mental health problem.

“It can occur that as a result of someone having mental health difficulties they can be downgraded or over-looked for promotion,” Mr Matthews said. “However, the biggest difficulty people report is the lack of access to employment and lack of understanding from employers.”

Around 150 people from business groups and employers, as well as voluntary organisations and mental health service users from across the region, will attend the conference in Waterford on January 28.

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