International Wheelchair Day: Thursday 1 March

International Wheelchair Day highlights the need for workplace mental health support for all employees with all types of disabilities

 A clear distinction is often made between ‘mind’ and ‘body’ when it comes to employers supporting employees with disabilities, with the focus traditionally being on the physical condition. However RedArc believes more employers need to recognise the importance of providing mental wellbeing support to this group too – not simply because they have a duty to provide the same insurance benefits as they do for able bodied employees – but also because this group is particularly vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression and other mental health conditions.

Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc said: “We’re using International Wheelchair Day to highlight the point that because wheelchair users have a very visible disability, many employers still think they’re ticking the right box if they have made their premises easily accessible. Support for people with disabilities needs to go way beyond this.

“Around a fifth of the workforce has a disability and where that is a hidden disability, the employer is even less likely to provide emotional support for the individual, simply because the condition is not as immediately obvious.”

Key mental health considerations for employers who have employees with a disability:

  • Staff with acquired rather than congenital disabilities often find the workplace a harder place to cope as they need to adjust to their new norm, and dealing with a new disability can have huge consequences for their mental health.
  • Disabled staff may need new skills, either to learn how to work with their new disability and/or to find new opportunities.
  • Disability can affect an individual’s mental wellbeing greatly – they begin to feel invisible, which affects their confidence.
  • Disabled staff often feel judged – especially if their level of disability varies. This can increase isolation and feeling of low self-worth.
  • Depending on the type and severity of the disability, tasks can take longer to do and this can be demoralising which can mean they avoid tasks altogether which further increases the risk of isolation, loneliness and depression.
  • No matter how supportive the employer, many recently disabled people find it difficult to talk to their employer and line manager.

RedArc nurses understand that there are various phases of response in individuals who acquire a new disability – they range from shock, denial, anger, acknowledgment and adjustment. Even if the physical condition is being well-managed, this process is extremely turbulent for anyone to deal with – especially if the individual also has financial concerns or worries about a return to work.

 Christine Husbands continued: “Many disabled people can acquire resilience as a result of overcoming challenges in daily life and living through major change. Some individuals who have been through the life-changing experience of disability find they develop empathy with other people, can solve problems and resolve conflicts which can mean they become even more of an asset to the employer.

“However, to get to this point, many disabled individuals will need a great deal of emotional and mental health support. The good news is that every kind of workplace can be made inclusive through changes in working patterns and a supportive culture.”

RedArc recommends all employers assess their group insurance policies to identify what mental health support is provided for individual employees, as well as training for the HR team, and line managers too. Many policies provide mental support to all employees even if the financial aspect of the insurance is limited to specific groups of staff.

Christine Husbands, concluded: “Having a third party to intervene in mental health issues is often a better solution for everyone as employees value confidentiality, can get faster access to support, and that support is usually delivered by parties that are more qualified than anyone within the organisation – all of which point toward a faster recovery.

“Let’s use International Wheelchair Day to break down the barriers about providing mental health support to employees with disabilities – both visible and invisible.”