An estimated £4.8m is expected to be plowed in to Remploy’s mental health in work support service.
According to this report in HR Magazine the initiative will seek to introduce work-based counselling and mental health support, provide personalised action plans, introduce the assessment of an individual’s needs and identification of coping strategies and both provide education for employers and help them to identify adjustments that can be made within the workplace or to working practices.
On the face of it this can only be a good thing, right? It shows the government takes mental health seriously and it assists employers in coping with staff mental health problems.
But the more I think about this the less I welcome it. I mean, for me it’s a moot point now, I’m a freelancer who only has herself to answer to (ok, clients too but generally I only have lovely clients), but in the past I can’t imagine that this interference in my working life or my employers’ businesses would have helped my case, and boy have I had a case or two.
My very last employer, not long after I was diagnosed with bipolar and severe post natal depression made me redundant, promoting a junior colleague in to my position after my contract was terminated. This occurred a day or two after he accused me of paranoia and blamed my mental illness for my not agreeing with him in a workplace discussion. I successfully sued for disability discrimination and although I was unable to recover the money awarded to me the fact that I was ‘right’ and he was ‘a twat’ did me just fine (though that £7k would be lovely right about now please Mr Karma).
In that situation no amount of education or support from Remploy or the government would have helped me to keep my job or to be able to work with my manager for any longer than I did. Would an agency bustling in suggesting different ways of working and trying to ‘educate’ my boss on my mental illness have gone down wonderfully with him? I sincerely doubt it. And I doubt that it would be welcomed with open arms in most companies, especially right now when they’re all too busy running round like headless chickens trying not to go under in this horrid recession that has seen unemployment hit a seventeen year high.
As for the idea of introducing and adapting working strategies…again, in theory, this is a wonderful idea. But I have beef and here it is: I don’t want to be treated differently and I sure as hell don’t want to be seen to be treated differently. You can educate employers all you like but that doesn’t stop the office gossip and the resentment of other employees when somebody is deemed to be receiving ‘special treatment’.
Perhaps this new strategy might work for the shorter term mental health problems of stress or short term depression – though if an employee is hit by one of these two little nuggets of nutty it might suggest their workplace needs to address issues earlier up the line – but for somebody with a long term disorder; clinical depression, bipolar, OCD for example, will a twee attempt at action plans and ‘are you ok dear?’ meetings solve the potential problems faced by an employee with one of these conditions or their employer? I doubt it.
The one brick wall I bang my head against time and time again is the lack of understanding of my condition among people, even people who know me well or who have their hearts in the right place, who see bipolar as something to be ‘snapped out of’, or who comment “oh, doesn’t everybody have bipolar these days?”. Until the UK is able to open up communication on mental illness, something which we prefer to keep firmly under our cosy Persian kilim as much as possible, until an employee is able to feel comfortable admitting to their condition and openly discussing it with colleagues AND employers, un-judged, and until mental illness is seen as just as debilitating as a physical disability by everybody, Remploy’s attempts to improve the workplace for the mentally ill are likely to have little more effect than throwing a pebble in the Atlantic.