Mental Health Training

This week I delivered the two day adult Mental Health First Aid Training for a large financial organisation, with a large customer base. The delegates were great, open and willing to share their lived experiences of supporting people with mental-ill health. However, there was one delegate who fixated on the issue of team members faking mental-ill health. They asked the question at least eight times during the session. They were very concerned as a manager what do you do, how would you manage this and when do you call it out. I answered the question each time and other delegates also tried to reassure them.

Faking mental-ill health?

In my experience, it is extremely rare that someone fakes mental-ill health to escape work or gain a redundancy package. If anything, staff do not ask for help when experiencing mental-ill health and often suffer in silence, terrified of losing their jobs. If redundancy is an option, taking it without having to mention any kind of health issue, be it physical or mental is the preferred way. I appreciate that when organisations go through mergers, acquisitions and changes stress rates go up, morale dips and being signed off work can be a symptom of this. It is key to note, this is not faking it, but being at a point where one needs to look after their well being and detach from an unpleasant environment.

What is our role at work?

I do think as colleagues, managers and/or Mental Health First Aiders it is not our role to judge or medically diagnose anyone (except in the case of medical practitioners). Simply to spot the signs and have a supportive conversation. If someone is “faking it”, it may not be mental-ill health but there may still an issue a person needs to come to terms with and discuss the options available to them. Below I list what can be done to support staff and relevant resources.

  • If you see any changes in a team member or colleague, do not be afraid to find a space away from the desk and ask how they are. MHFA’s Take 10 Together Toolkit, is a great resource.
  • If they don’t want to talk, tell them you are there to listen if they want to talk at a later date. You can refer them to other sources of support such as Occupational Health, your Employee Assistance Programme, staff counselling, professional advice services, SamaritansSANELineMind, Anxiety UK etc.
  • Another helpful tool is the Stress Bucket, an explanatory video can be seen here. This is a great tool and it doesn’t diagnose or scare people. It simply gets them talking about what might be going on for them and the solutions they want to take forward.
  • If they do open up to you, then talk about what workplace adjustments could be made for them. This could be adjusting working hours, working from home two days a week, finding them a quiet working space. Workplace adjustments do not have to be expensive, they enable people to stay in work and be as productive as possible. It shaped by the staff member and manager jointly.
  • Think about a Wellness Recovery Action Plan® (WRAP) or documenting the adjustments in a workplace adjustment “passport”. Mind also has a Wellness Action Plan example hereRemploy as part of Access to Work can also support your organisation with mental health mentoring.
  • Make sure WRAPs® or WAPs are reviewed updated and discussed in a positive way. If someone does have to take time off for being sick, then remember a phased return to work is key. Each organisation will have their own policy so do ask your HR team if you have any questions.
  • In the very rare case that someone may be fabricating mental illness, unlikely as it is difficult to feign the symptoms and feelings over time. If, as an organisation you have made workplace adjustments, used resources available, given it 6 months to embed the adjustments and you sense there is more to the story, speak to your HR team. They can provide further information, guidance and advice about the next steps for example information about a capability review or ill-health retirement. Hopefully it won’t have to come to this, and the support provided will enable the staff member to start and maintain their recovery journey. As always, being pro-active by creating a positive work environment is the best way to ensure mental wellbeing for all.

Is there a discussions about people faking mental-ill health in your workplace? Let me know what you think by commenting below.