Susan J Williams,
Partner & Head of Family,
One in four people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime. This can have a significant impact on a person’s life, including their wellbeing and performance in the workplace.
In this article, Susan J Williams, Partner and Head of Family (Cardiff), explores the significant impact mental health can have on relationships, and its role as a cause and consequence of a relationship breakdown.
She also outlines how employers and HR professionals can support and promote good employee mental health and wellbeing – in particular, when they are experiencing difficulties in their relationship.
What is mental health?
Everyone has both physical health and mental health. With physical ill health, it is normally visible and seen. However, mental health affects our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, which is often not as visible. Therefore, it is not as easy to spot the signs of ill mental health as ill physical health.
Good mental health, as defined by the World Health Organisation is:
‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’.
However, there are signs to look out for when a person is experiencing mental illness, these include:
- Poor concentration
- Easily distracted
- Being more worried and anxious
- Finding it hard to make decisions
- Having a low mood
- Being disinterested in day to day activities
- Having a feeling of being overwhelmed
- Tearful and upset
- Changes in mood
- Social withdrawal
- Poor eating and sleeping.
The above is a list of the more common signs, but it is not an exhaustive list, as mental ill health can affect people differently.
Looking after employee mental health during a relationship breakdown
Mental health can plays a crucial role in a relationship – when one partner is experiencing poor mental health, this can have a significant impact on the individual, their partner and their relationship – causing difficulties and sometimes a complete breakdown in the relationship. Likewise, the breakdown of a marriage or relationship can also result in one or both partners experiencing mental ill health – where the divorce process often intensifies the symptoms.
Relationship breakdowns and divorce are the second most stressful events in a person’s life. Approximately a third of marriages end in divorce. In 2020, there were 107,599 divorces in England and Wales. Given on average that one in four people experience mental ill health in their lifetime, the statistics demonstrate the close correlation of mental ill health and relationship breakdowns.
There are so many changes and uncertainties around a relationship breakdown; from concerns about the children and what arrangements will need to be made, where everyone is going to live, how are the finances going to be divided between the couple, how long will it take to resolve – and what life will be like when it is all over. These are all large issues and can be overwhelming for many people.
Divorce is a huge life change, with high levels of stress that can have an enormous impact on someone’s mental health. It is import that they are supported and have access to the help they need to get through this difficult period.
This is even more prevalent when domestic abuse is involved. Domestic abuse can happen to both women and men; and depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are more significant where a person has experienced domestic abuse within a relationship.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic and numerous lockdowns of society, experts have seen an increase in people experiencing issues with their mental health. There is also growing evidence that during the pandemic there was also an increase in domestic violence.
As more and more employees continue to return to the workplace, it is important that employers and HR teams recognise how and why an employee is struggling with their mental health and the support and assistance they might need.
How can employers and HR teams support their employees with their mental health?
Employers have a duty of care to their employers to support their employees’ health, wellbeing and safety. This includes mental health – and not just physical health. This involves both supporting employees experiencing poor mental health, and promoting good mental health practices more generally.
How can employers and HR teams promote good mental health practice in the workplace?
- Ensure that employers and HR teams understand about mental health issues, and how to deal with these issues carefully and sensitively when they arise.
- Stay alert to the early signs of stress, depression and anxiety. There should be procedures in place to ensure the proper response is given. Good communication is essential.
- Properly signpost employees to their GP and/or organisations that could provide expert support such as MIND, domestic violence organisations such as Women’s Aid and Mankind, as well as counsellors and solicitors.
- Review the employee’s role in the workplace to see whether there are areas that can be temporarily changed or modified to reduce stress and anxiety. This may assist in cases where stress in their home life is compounded with stress at work. Look at what adjustments can be made that would be the most helpful for the employee.
- Consider whether you can offer flexible working or a staggered return to work where a member of staff is coming back to work after an extended period of absence. This is particularly relevant as employees return to work after the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Inform and educate staff on mental health issues. Set up a mental health and wellbeing group to explore how to share information and good practices; introduce wellbeing initiatives at work, including training, workshops, use staff surveys; and consider starting mentoring or peer support schemes.
- Create new mental health policies, which include strategies to remove the stigma around someone with mental ill health.
- Explore the balance between work and life, and working from home and the office, which has become even more relevant following the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Consider whether increased supervision or support is needed and how it can be provided within the workplace.
What are the benefits of a good approach to mental health issues in the workplace?
The role of mental health in the workplace is more important than ever, and employers and HR teams should prioritise their mental health workplace practices for the overall health of their organisation.
Having these practices in place will help employees when they are at their most vulnerable. Promoting positive mental health practices will help to reduce staff absences, increase the retention of staff, improve and maintain productivity, encourage employees to reach their full potential, and make your workplace a better place to be – where employees can feel valued and thrive.
Most people will manage their mental health with access the right support. World Mental Health Day took place on the 10 October 2021; raising awareness of mental health.
How can our Family team help?
Major events and changes in our lives, such as divorce, can significantly affect our mental health and wellbeing both at home and in the workplace. A greater understanding of mental health provides the opportunity for employers and HR teams to support their employees.
For more information and advice, get in touch with Susan J Williams, Partner and our Head of Family (Cardiff). Email [email protected] or call 07736969373 today, to see how we can support you and your employees.
The information above is not and should not be taken to be legal advice. You should not take action or omit to take action based on this information.
If you require any help on the issues raised above, please get in touch using the details above.