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Short Steps



What is serious mental illness?

Serious mental illness includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other diagnoses which typically involve psychosis (losing touch with reality or experiencing delusions) or high levels of care, and which may require hospital treatment.


How many people have one?

1 in 100 people will experience bipolar disorder, 1 in 100 will have schizophrenia and, along with other diagnoses, this means that about 1 in 30 of us will experience a serious mental illness at some time in our lives.


Does this mean that people with a serious mental illness cannot work or access education / training?

Not at all. Many people living with a serious mental illness have productive careers in a wide range of occupations, from medicine to social care. Many others take part in education and training.


Mental illness in the workplace

A person’s mental illness may be known to their colleagues – or not – depending on the wishes of the individual, but it’s likely that we all know or work with people with serious mental illness.


If a member of staff has or develops a serious mental illness, this doesn’t mean that they can never return to work. If managers take a supportive approach they are quite likely to be able to return given time. Some people may need a staggered return, but if you as an employer are prepared to devote time and energy on back-to-work plans, the successful return of a valued employee is a far more desirable – and less costly – outcome than having to recruit a new member of staff.


It’s important to remember also that serious mental illness is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This means that not only is there a moral obligation to support your staff, but that the law may well be on their side, and so they must be treated fairly.


As an employer how do I support my staff?

Hafal’s Regional Employment Officers can give you further advice and basic training and our accredited Learning Centre provides training to employers on the management of mental health in the workplace.


It’s important to have a supportive and transparent process for managing any aspect of ill health. In small organisations in particular, it can be difficult to cope when your staff are off sick, but understanding how to help them return to work will reduce the length of absence and could even prevent future absences.


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