Have You Trained Your Managers to Recognize Mental Health Issues?

BY Kathy Crosett
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We talk a lot on this blog about how managers need training to improve workplace culture. One topic that should be added to the mix is mental health training. Every organization needs its team members to feel healthy both physically and mentally. When mental health is ignored, productivity and culture both suffer.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales Faculty of Medicine in Sydney, Australia report that mental health problems are now a major cause of work absences. These absences can be ongoing unless managers take action. Unfortunately, managers don't always realize when a team member is suffering from a mental health problem. Researchers set out to determine whether organizations might experience an improvement to the bottom line when managers receive training on this topic.

In Australia, managers at an urban fire service were randomly assigned training. The four-​hour training module helped managers recognize behaviors associated with depression and post-​traumatic stress disorders, among others. Managers were also trained on understanding their role in situations like this, especially with respect to what to say to staff members.

Researchers then compared sick leave taken in departments run by trained managers to departments run by managers waiting to be trained on mental health. The comparison was done six months after training ended. At that point, researchers found a measurable drop in sick time taken in departments headed by trained managers. Sick time taken in other departments rose during the same period.

While this was a small study, the results indicate that training managers to recognize and take action on behalf of employees who may be suffering from depression or another type of mental health problem makes a difference. Dr. John Greeden of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center comments,  “supervisors can be allies who help their employees get assistance.”

As a manager, you shouldn't expect to have to substitute as a mental health professional, but you might want to know enough to understand what to do when an employee needs help.