Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mental Health in the Workplace

According to the Pennine NHS Trust, there are an estimated 5 million veterans within the United Kingdom, while a further 20,000 military personnel leave the Armed Forces each year. When people leave the Armed Forces, it is generally unknown what career path a veteran may take but their healthcare needs are transferred from the military to the National Health Service.

For those discharged on mental health grounds, a military social worker is appointed and coordinates with the veteran for a period of up to 12 months. In 2010, around 164 military personnel had to leave the Armed Forces because of a psychological condition. Of these, an estimated 35 were diagnosed with PTSD.

Many make the transition to civilian life without much difficulty but if they have ongoing medical issues, the Ministry of Defence will let their GP know what needs to be put in place, to ensure the best possible healthcare is provided. It should equally be recognised, that there are a number of veterans who are not registered with a General Practitioner.

It can take years for a veteran to seek help after becoming unwell, because of the stigma attached to mental health, or because they believe that nothing can be done. At present, it currently takes around 13 years from service discharge, for a veteran to seek assistance for a mental health condition.

According to the Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers (USDAW), in their publication “Supporting Disabled Members in the Workplace", a Veteran with mental health problems, may be entitled to the protection of the Equality Act, which from October 2010 replaced the Disability Discrimination Act.

Veteran’s with mental health problems may not think of themselves as being disabled. However, it may be in the interests of a Veteran to show they are disabled, because they would then be entitled to greater working protection through the Equality Act. Employers only fall under a legal duty to make adjustments to a workers conditions, when they know a person is “disabled“!

Charities such as Combat Stress look after veterans who have a wide range of mental health conditions, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) being a predominant condition within their patient group. The most common types of mental health problems that are also dealt with by Combat Stress are:

Clinical depression
Anxiety states
Adjustment disorders
Phobic disorders
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Bi-polar illness (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 can suffer from one or more of these conditions (known medically as co-morbidity), and these problems are often complicated by relationship and home-life difficulties.

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 a veteran’s mental health. As USDAW explain; “This means the employer may have to change some aspects of the members’ working arrangements to help them stay in, or get back to work.”

According to the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, these changes can include: Flexible working, where a worker with depression could have a shift changed so they don’t need to start work until later in the day. This could help if someone was taking sleeping medication, while another adjustment can also include, time off for a veteran to attend therapy or self help groups.

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 workers disability-related time off separately from general sick leave.”

A veteran may not necessarily describe themselves as being a “veteran” of the military and many would need a direct question about their time spent in the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force or the Merchant Navy..

It is within the interests of both a manager and of human resources, to ask the right questions and provide the right support, when managing the mental health needs of a veteran. The failure to provide adequate assistance to disabled workers, is also expensive to both a company’s reputation, while costing the UK economy around £13 billion a year, in lost work and absenteeism.

If you have any questions of comments to make on this article, you join the discussion below or you can follow Hussein over on @TotallyHussein for more information on PTSD please check out the website of www.combatstress.org.uk 

1 comments:

  1. Military personnel are more likely to be afflicted with mental disorders because of the nature of the work. For instance, many US vets who came back from Vietnam were reported to exhibit symptoms of post trauma disorder and other mental illnesses.

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