As September begins, it’s a long haul until the next vacation. Some will have a day off for Columbus Day, some around Thanksgiving, but for many, if not most, the next real time away from the office will be this winter. When it’s still officially summer, winter can feel a long ways off.

For those who struggle with mental illness, there isn’t a vacation soon enough or long enough to give the time needed to manage mental health and work.

That’s why I was particularly impressed when I read about a program created by an employee in Deloitte consulting’s UK division.

Mental Health Champions trains a group of senior partners to serve as, essentially, gatekeepers to mental health support for their colleagues. Mental Health Champions help fellow employees find resources for ongoing support, counseling, or treatment and serve as sounding boards for discussion about how to manage disclosure of mental illness at work.

Deloitte’s created an infrastructure that makes it okay to talk about mental health at work, and which protects the privacy of employees who worry how talking about mental health struggles will affect their careers.

John Binns, who created Mental Health Champions, came to this work from personal experience. (Read more about Binns here.) Following a period of depression that led to Binns taking a two-month leave of absence from work, he returned to a company that wanted him back, but he still wasn’t sure how to talk about his mental health with colleagues.

What’s promising about Mental Health Champions:

  • It’s built into the way Deloitte UK does business. It’s not a special, time-limited program, or something that people have to enroll in to access. It’s there for you if you need it.
  • It uses existing internal resources, rather than bringing in outsiders. It shows that supporting fellow staff is seen as adding value to the organization.
  • It was created by an employee for employees. Who knows better than someone who’s been there what would be helpful?

Have you heard of a similar program or another unique workplace mental health promotion initiative? Feel free to post about it here.

When I first read about Binns and Mental Health Champions in this Wall Street Journal article, I was surprised by the tone of many others interviewed about the issue of mental illness disclosure at work. Despite advances such as Mental Health Champions and movement forward in increasing access to mental health services through employee assistance programs, it seemed to me that the only safe place to be open about struggles with mental health is if you work for a mental health agency. For example, an employee of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that his personal experience with mental illness was viewed as an asset when he was hired by the organization.

What do you think? What have been your experiences?

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

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