Mental Health in the Workplace

September 22, 2011 2:03 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

According to the Pennine NHS Trust, there are an estimated five million war veterans within the United Kingdom. A further 20,000 military personnel leave the Armed Forces each year. After leaving the Armed Forces, the responsibility for a veteran’s healthcare needs is transferred from the military to the National Health Service.
For those discharged from service on mental health grounds, a military social worker is appointed and coordinates with the veteran for a period of up to twelve months. In 2010, around 164 military personnel were discharged from service on mental health grounds. Of these, an estimated 35 were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Many military personnel make the transition to civilian life without much difficulty. If they are known to have any medical issues, the Ministry of Defence will inform their GP to ensure the best possible healthcare is provided post discharge. It should be noted too that there are many veterans not registered with a General Practitioner.

It can take years for a veteran to seek help after becoming unwell, either because of the stigma attached to mental health or because they believe nothing can be done for them. On average, a veteran does not seek assistance for a mental health condition till after thirteen years post discharge.

The Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers (USDAW) claim in their publication ‘Supporting Disabled Members in the Workplace’ that a veteran with mental health problems may be entitled to the protection of the Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act in October 2010.

Veterans with mental health problems may not consider themselves to be disabled. However, they may benefit from making an employer aware if they suffer from a mental health condition as they would then be entitled to greater working protection through the Equality Act. If a veteran’s condition is found to be covered by the Equality Act, then an employer is legally bound to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to take into account the veteran’s illness. As USDAW explain; “This means the employer may have to change some aspects of an employee’s working arrangements to help them stay in, or get back to work.”

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, these changes include flexible working which allows a worker with depression to have their shift changed so that they start work later in the day. This could be beneficial to individuals who suffer sleeping difficulties. Another adjustment would be to allow a veteran time off to attend therapy or a self-help group.

An employer is also duty bound to adjust the ‘sickness absence formula’, so that absences related to a veteran’s disability are counted separately and are not used to trigger disciplinary action. The law states that once an employer knows “a worker comes within the definition of a disabled person”, an employer must “record the worker’s disability-related time off separately from general sick leave.”

A veteran may not necessarily disclose that they spent time spent in the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force or the Merchant Navy. Employers need to ask directly about military service.

It is within the interests of both Management and Human Resources to ask the right questions and provide the right support when managing a veteran’s mental health needs. The failure to provide adequate assistance to disabled workers is damaging to a company’s reputation and also cost the UK economy around £13 billion a year in lost work and absenteeism.

Charities such as Combat Stress look after veterans who have a wide range of mental health conditions, with PTSD being the most prominent condition. The most common types of mental health problems that Combat Stress deals with are:

Clinical depression
Anxiety states
Adjustment disorders
Phobic disorders
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Bipolar Affective Disorder (manic depression)
Issues relating to past and present substance abuse/dependence (drug and alcohol)
Psychotic conditions in a non-acute phase
Issues relating to anger

Many of the veterans who are under the care of Combat Stress suffer from one or more of the above conditions and these problems are often complicated by relationship and home-life difficulties.

Hussein Al-Alak is a British based journalist and is chairman of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign UK. Hussein is also a member of the Royal British Legion and a mental health advocate for Combat Stress. You can follow him on Twitter at TotallyHussein.

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This post was written by Hussein Al-alak

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