Mental disorders affect people’s personal as well as career life. It is necessary to note that physical disability is regarded as less destructive and counterproductive as a psychological disability. Several decades ago psychological disability was associated with unemployment. However, these days employers are ready to have employees with a psychological disability.
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Of course, this readiness does not exclude the necessity to identify such people and provide the necessary treatment to them, which is proved to be effective (Lerman et al., 2012). Therefore, employers should be aware of strategies to monitor their employees’ mental well-being and provide the necessary assistance if necessary. It is possible to consider three mental disorders to take a closer look at possible monitoring and treatment strategies. The mental disorders to be analyzed are eating disorders, insomnia, and schizophrenia.
Eating disorders have been discussed worldwide recently. However, quite a little attention has been paid to the influence of this disorder on people’s professional life (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). It has been acknowledged that eating disorders do affect people’s productivity. This mental disorder can also be easily detected as symptoms are quite apparent and colleagues and/or supervisors can identify a person with this problem (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). In the first place, this mental disorder affects the individual’s appearance. These people are either overweight or skinny (in the case of anorexia nervosa). Appearance is the most apparent sign of the disease.
However, other signs can be detected even prior to significant changes in appearance. Thus, if a person suffers from this disorder, he/she will likely avoid various events involving eating or will refuse to eat anything, this is especially true for overweight people (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Fatigue is another symptom to take into account. The lack of food leads to fatigue and lack of concentration, short attention spans, etc. These people often suffer from depression. They often take anti-depressant medication, which does not solve the problem but affects productivity.
Apart from trying to see the symptoms or waiting for a signal from an employee, supervisors can carry out a certain survey. There are a number of possible tests and questionnaires which can help to identify people with eating disorders. Thomas and Hersen (2002, p. 315) mention such tools as the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 that measures “attitudes and behaviors concerning eating, weight, and body shape”, the Eating Attitudes Test that measures such symptoms as “preoccupation with bulimia, concerns about body image and drives for thinness, purgative behaviors, dieting practices, slow eating”, the Body Shape Questionnaire, the Body Image Assessment, etc.
It has been found that people suffering from this mental disorder are often eager to start treatment as they see that the problem exists and it prevents them from living a normal life (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Of course, if the physical or psychological state of a person is critical, it is necessary to resort to inpatient care. In this case, employer can only guide the employee as major decisions will be made by the person or his/her relatives.
Nevertheless, if the state of an employee is not critical, it is possible to resort to psychotherapy. The employer can finance the employee’s treatment. One of possible ways to help such people is to have a specific sport training (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Thus, employees will have opportunity to train for a specific time several times a week. At that, people with the disorder should train along with those who do not have such problems. The training will positively affect people’s health and can be a good solution as physical training presupposes healthy eating. Finally, supervisors can arrange meetings and discussions to find reasons for unhealthy eating and to find the way out.
Another mental disorder to be discussed is insomnia which is associated with more significant effects on employees’ professional life. Metlaine et al. (2005, p. 11) claim that insomnia and other sleep disturbances are “highly prevalent in industrial countries”. Notably, insomnia (like eating disorders) is often associated with stresses. However, unlike eating disorders, insomnia is rarely associated with societal conventions, stereotypes, images and it is rarely connected with attitude toward appearance. Insomnia often occurs in people working at nights. However, daytime workers also suffer from insomnia, e.g. 16-30% of such workers have this mental disorder (Metlaine et al., 2005).
There are a variety of symptoms which can be noticed by colleagues or supervisors. It has been acknowledged that the major (and primary) symptom is fatigue. In contrast to fatigue caused by eating disorders, this symptom is manifested much earlier in people with insomnia. People who do not have enough sleep are often depressed. The lack of sleeps also negatively affects people’s alertness in the workplace (Lerman et al., 2012). The disorder also affects people’s appearance. People suffering from insomnia have dark circle round eyes. They are often pale and always ‘worn out’.
Insomnia can also be associated with other disorders (e.g. eating disorders) and even substance abuse as people try to cope with their problem on their own. This mental disorder can often be secondary to another mental disorder or substance abuse history (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). First, unlike eating disorders, insomnia rarely depends on people’s will.
In contrast to people with eating disorders, people suffering from insomnia are more likely to complain about their sleep problems and are eager to seek for help. Therefore, supervisors can have individual interviews and meetings with people who are thought to have sleep problems. This measure can be final in detecting employees suffering from insomnia. It is also possible to ask employees to complete certain questionnaires aimed at detecting sleep problems.
Though insomnia and eating disorders have a number of similar symptoms, they are quite different in terms of treatment. Again, employers should encourage such people to seek for professional help (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Moreover, employers can provide certain financial aid to help the employee cope with his/her problem. If insomnia is lasting or if it is secondary to another health problem, professional help (as well as appropriate medication) is necessary (Thomas & Hersen, 2002).
Thomas and Hersen (2002) mention that effectiveness of daytime naps has not been proved yet. However, the employer can equip certain space to enable employers who have sleep problems to have a nap during daytime. In contrast to eating disorders, insomnia is associated with deeper psychological problems and talks or interviews with the supervisor (who does not have qualification to treat psychological disorders) can hardly be effective.
The third mental disorder to be considered is schizophrenia which is “a severe psychiatric disorder that has a broad impact on all aspects of personal, social, and vocational functioning” (Thomas & Hersen, 2002, p. 249). Unlike the two former disorders, schizophrenia can have “a major effect” on the ability to “secure and sustain long-term employment, and to manage social relationships at the workplace” (Thomas & Hersen, 2002, p. 249). In contrast to eating disorders and insomnia, it can be also more difficult to detect this mental disorder as the employer can fail to understand that the problem exists.
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At that, supervisors and employees should understand that people suffering from this disorder should not be simply isolated as the latter are not necessarily dangerous and still can function properly (Read et al., 2006). Moreover, Thomas and Hersen (2002) claim that though the disorder may influence employees’ behavior and relationships with other employees, the disorder does not necessarily affect ability to complete particular tasks. Notably, eating disorders and especially insomnia usually have more considerable negative effects on the employee’s productiveness. It is necessary to note that completing tasks favorably affects the employee and can diminish some symptoms.
As has been mentioned above, symptoms of the disease can be difficult to detect, but colleagues or supervisors still can notice some symptoms. Researchers define three types of symptoms in patients with schizophrenia: negative symptoms, positive symptoms and cognitive impairments (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Such negative symptoms as apathy, anhedonia and anergia in the workplace are reflected “by a lower level of energy, decreased stamina… a lower motivation to succeed” (Thomas & Hersen, 2002, p. 253).
These symptoms are quite similar to symptoms associated with insomnia. However, unlike insomnia, schizophrenia has other characteristic symptoms. One of these is “lack of emotional expressiveness” which leads to various misunderstandings in the workplace (Thomas & Hersen, 2002, p. 253). Thus, people suffering from schizophrenia do not reveal their emotions which can be regarded as lack of responsiveness and interest.
Thomas and Hersen (2002) state that positive symptoms occur quite rarely, but they can also be traced by colleagues and supervisors. Thus, delusions which are positive symptoms can occur. In this case, the employee thinks that his/her colleagues are plotting against him/her. Of course, when the employer addresses the supervisor with complaints concerning other employees’ plotting, the supervisor should first check the working climate instead of jumping to the conclusion that the employer suffers from schizophrenia. Employees with schizophrenia become suspicious and often disrupt relationships with their colleagues. Hallucinations are also positive symptoms which can be revealed at the workplace. Employers suffering from schizophrenia can address someone who is not present in the office.
As for cognitive impairments, colleagues and supervisors can notice “reduced speed of information processing and slower reaction time”, which are characteristic symptoms (Thomas & Hersen, 2002, pp. 253-254). These symptoms are manifested during conversations as people suffering from schizophrenia will talk at a very slow pace. Planning and learning abilities are reduced, which can be apparent at the workplace. Notably, in contrast to cases with eating disorders or insomnia, questionnaires and tests are not effective in detecting people suffering from schizophrenia (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). Therefore, the most effective tool is observation.
As for possible measures to assist the employee with this mental disorder, it is possible to single out a variety of tools. First, it is necessary to note that severe forms of the disorder should be treated professionally, inpatient treatment should be used. The employer should also encourage employees to start treatment. Those suffering from schizophrenia are often afraid of disclosing their diagnosis as they are afraid of losing their job. Thus, the employer is responsible for creating adequate policies concerning mental disorders and other disabilities.
It is also necessary to create more comfortable conditions for people with this kind of disability. As for ‘lack of emotional expressiveness’, it is possible to focus on verbal communication with people who suffer from schizophrenia. Sending messages and e-mails will positively affect development of communication between the employer with schizophrenia and other employees and supervisors (Thomas & Hersen, 2002).
Besides, such employees should not communicate with clients as this is often associated with stress, which negatively affects people with this mental disorder. Reduced ability to learn and slow reaction can also be addressed. These people should not complete tasks which require fast reaction and necessity to learn large amounts of information. Supervisors can also divide larger tasks into smaller ones. Therefore, people with this mental disorder can also be effective employees.
On balance, it is possible to note that the three mental disorders mentioned show that people with these disabilities can complete a variety of tasks. However, the employer is still responsible for providing employers with favorable work conditions and encouraging them to address professionals who can help them cope with their problems. It is necessary to note that eating disorders, insomnia and schizophrenia have a number of similar symptoms (like fatigue, depression).
However, the three disorders also have a variety of specific symptoms. It is also important to state that eating disorders can be regarded as a disability with minimal effects on productivity compared to insomnia and especially schizophrenia. Employers with these disorders should be identified in order to help them cope with their problem (and become more productive employees). Finally, employers should understand that they are responsible for creating the necessary working climate where employers understand that mental disorders do not necessarily mean inability to work.
Lerman, S.E., Eskin, E., Flower, D.J., George, E.C., Gerson, B., Hartenbaum, N., Hursh, S.R., Moore-Ede, M. (2012). Fatigue risk management in the workplace. Journal if Occupational and Environmental Medicine 54(2), 231-258.
Metlaine, A., Leger, D. & Choudat, D. (2005). Socioeconomic impact of insomnia in working populations. Industrial Health 43(1), 11-19.
Read, J.,Haslam, N., Sayce, L. & Davies, E. (2006). Prejudice and schizophrenia: A review of the ‘mental illness is an illness like any other’ approach. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 114(1), 303-318.
Thomas, J.C & Hersen, M. (2002). Handbook of mental health in the workplace. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.