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Category Archives: health

Disclosing a Mental Health Issue at Work: When and How to Do It

Disclosing a mental health issue in a meeting with two women talking across a table to another woman in smart business clothing

Are you worried about being judged by your employers if you talk about mental health? Don’t panic – read on for advice.

With one in four people likely to suffer a mental health problem in their lifetime, it’s never been more important to know about disclosing a mental health issue when you live with a diagnosis that affects you day-to-day.

Whether you’re job hunting and worried about discrimination, or you’re employed but struggling to cope, this is what you need to know about mental health in the workplace and the ins and outs of disclosure.

Disclosing a Mental Health Issue: Guidance from British Law

The Equality Act (2010) protects you from discrimination for nine characteristics, including age, race and sex. Disability is another characteristic, but many people don’t realise ongoing mental health problems that significantly affect your day-to-day life actually count as a disability. This means you cannot be discriminated in the workplace for having a mental health problem, unless an employer can prove a lawful justification for their actions – for example, if other workers’ health and safety is at risk.

The exact wording from the Equality Act refers to ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. In the case of mental health, this would mean a condition that’s affected you (or likely to affect you) for 12 months, either ongoing or recurring. It also applies to conditions that affected you in the past, so you are protected even if you haven’t had an episode of depression, bipolar, or another mental health condition.

Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to help manage your condition; these might include a change to your working hours, having a quiet room to go to when you need some time alone, not needing to ‘hot desk’ (find a desk at random rather than be allocated a set space) or changing some of your responsibilities. Shaw Trust, which helps disadvantaged people into work and training, has some useful online resources and face-to-face employability services.

Support in the Workplace

You may need support from occupational health, which an employer can refer you to, or you might choose to get support outside the workplace. It can be tricky to find talking therapy that fits around your working hours, but do outline any concerns to your therapist and they will try their best to find an appointment time to suit you, perhaps an early morning or evening slot, or a lunchtime session. Depending on your job structure, you may be able to work flexibly around an appointment in working hours, or perhaps work from home on the day of your regular appointment.

It can be more difficult to feel supported in a smaller workplace, where there is no Human Resources department. As an employee within a small team, you may also feel more overstretched and find it harder to speak out about your condition, for fear of increasing other people’s workloads or stress levels. However, all employers must abide by the law, and they still have a duty to make some of those ‘reasonable adjustments’, which will vary according to your needs, where possible.

If your employer can’t afford to make the kind of adjustments needed, you may be entitled to funding from the government’s Access to Work scheme. This might involve help with transport, or access to a support worker. Local and national charities can also offer advice. If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a list of resources that could help you. Should you be caring for someone with long-term mental health issues, don’t forget you are also protected against discrimination by association. Mind has a useful resource on the types of discrimination here.

Colleagues at work with laptops facing each other

If you don’t want to share your health issues with colleagues, you don’t always have to.

Your Right to Privacy When Disclosing a Mental Health Issue

Some people don’t want to disclose their mental health condition and, if it doesn’t put health and safety at risk to non-disclose, you can choose not to inform your employer. However, this may make things harder if you do need to make changes in the workplace down the line.

When you’re applying for most jobs, you don’t need to disclose any health conditions, mental or physical, unless you want to. Certain public-sector jobs, such as being a teacher or a doctor, have different regulations, and you would need to disclose in these cases. It’s also important to inform the DVLA if any medication for mental health issues is affecting your ability to drive, whether or not driving is a necessary part of your job.

The majority of companies should only ask for health disclosures after a job offer has been made, but – aside from exempt professions, such as teaching, mentioned above – you are still not legally bound to reveal your diagnosis. Once you have disclosed, your employer should still respect your privacy, so if you only want your manager and the HR team to know about your diagnosis, it shouldn’t be discussed with other members of staff.

Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Walking Towards a Better Mood – New Research

Walking in front of a brick wall that says 'good' in a mural - suggesting walking is good for you

Walking towards a better mood.

It’s official: walking off a negative mood, and seeing quick results no matter what your speed, is possible.

A team of researchers at Iowa State University have confirmed that walking can blast away a negative mood. Better still, it does not need to be a fast aerobic stroll. Astonishingly, a 12-minute walk at speeds of just 3mph will raise a bad mood.

A study involving 400 undergraduates at Iowa State University and published in the Journal Of New Emotion has confirmed this amazing fact.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that the walk location was unimportant. Forget the thought of the beautiful Sussex downs in autumn hues.  Participants who merely walked around an urban, drab and featureless university concourse (not to shame those at Iowa – many campuses aren’t easy on the eye) were just as likely to report an improvement in mood as those who had walked in beautiful surroundings.

Even students who walked on a treadmill for 12 minutes reported an increased mood. In contrast, those who sat at the end of the treadmill waiting for their friends felt worse than when they entered the gym.

Walking Off a Bad Mood: Why You Should Try It

Jeffrey Miller, study author and assistant professor at Saint Xavier University, said: “There seems to be something about that brisk, purposeful walk that is really good for you.”

The study increases the previously held view that even a short walk can be a valuable counter-measure in a difficult situation. So, what are you waiting for? You could take some of the heat out of that imminent meeting with the boss. It is certainly worth a try.

These findings also add weight to the already well-known physical benefits of walking.  Previous research has concluded that regular walking can slow dementia progression, prevent osteoarthritis, lower overall cancer risk and help in weight and blood pressure maintenance.

Try walking the next time you feel stress or worry clouding your thoughts: no matter the location, the walk itself could make a tangible difference to your mood.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Is it Child Abuse to Let Your Child Become Obese?

A news article in Isle of Man Today newspaper dated 20th August bore this stop-you-in-your-tracks headline on childhood obesity:

 ‘Allowing your child to become obese is a form of child abuse’.

The article proceeded to quote the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Alan Bell as stating: ‘We need to wake up to the fact that this (obesity in children) is a very serious problem. Individuals must accept responsibility for safeguarding their own well-being’.

The article continued: ‘In the case of families it is the parents who should be held responsible for ensuring that their children eat properly and take enough exercise. Failure to do so could be described as a form of child neglect.

When you think that a parent caught slapping their child could be in court for child abuse. I don’t see why this should not equally be considered abusing their child’.

Strong words, but is the rhetoric correct?

shutterstock_21440572Clearly, if your child is overweight there are considerable risks to his or her health.  Existing research evidence concludes that there is no escaping this depressing fact. The truth is that eating the wrong food over time has a negative effect on health.

These risks to health are relevant during childhood and continue to be pertinent as the child develops into adulthood.  Physical illness, and indeed psychological dysfunction, are more likely to affect your child if they are obese.

That said, the majority of parents, from Dundee to Dungeness, would be absolutely horrified to learn that their children’s food may signal an earlier demise. They would also be shocked to learn that they may also be guilty of abuse.

Simplistic statements linking ‘obesity with abuse’ do not improve children’s diets; in fact, they continue to increase the schism within an already divided society.

In reality, the problem is far more deep-rooted and is entrenched with socio-economic and cultural influences.

Understanding Childhood Obesity

Children become obese for a variety of reasons.  In truth, deliberate and therefore abusive force-feeding of the wrong food is very rare (it is infrequently seen in Munchausen Syndrome).

Accessible public education is the key to improving the diets of our children, combined with affordable healthy food.

It isn’t surprising that the poorest in our community have the most nutrient-dilute diet: junk food is relatively cheap, is usually available as pound-stretching BOGOF deals, and ultimately fills a hole in even the hungriest child’s ever-rumbling stomach. Aside from basic fruit and vegetables, many trendy and mainstream health foods are expensive. Furthermore, cooking from scratch can be time-consuming and a source of anxiety for many parents.

Of course, parents who have limited resources will choose quantity over quality unless they are really clued up regarding the potential long-term damage to their children that is caused by a poor diet.

Just yesterday in a Twitter post, a well-known supermarket chain launched a survey for Tweeters to take part in: ‘Tell us your favourite product’, it said, with options including pancakes and several other forms of nutritionally dilute food. A better, but equally fun option, might have been ‘Tell us your favourite fruit and how you eat it’: fresh strawberries in a summer picnic, blackberries in autumn, frozen fruit as ice lollies, and so on.

In these times of austerity, where many parents are genuinely challenged to make ends meet, there needs to be more visible, yet simultaneously low-key promotion of healthier food – informing, but not lecturing. These health-promoting basics need to be available at a cheaper price.

An Obese Child is not an Abused Child

Linking obesity with the words ‘child abuse’ is extremely short-sighted and damaging. It insults the average parent and conversely dilutes the phrase ‘child abuse’ from its true meaning, i.e., the horrendous cruelty that child protection professionals work with on a daily basis. It also ignores the role that genetics can play in obesity (as discussed in this UCL study from March 2013).

The ‘child abuse’ label doesn’t reflect the complex interplay between food, culture, education and finance. It also has the potential to stigmatise low income families, who are often stereotyped as being more likely to face obesity. These stereotypes persist, despite some studies suggesting otherwise: a study in the International Journal of Obesity, found that middle-class children are more likely to be obese than children in other class brackets.

Of course, parents do have to take responsibility to provide healthy food for children, but they must be helped to do this, not demonised.

Unless sustained and engaging public education is possible, delivered via slick advertising and access to cheaper healthy food, the policy makers may have to reconsider where accountability for obesity truly resides.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). She works with children and adults, offering treatment such as psychotherapy, CBT and family therapy. 

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