Although awareness has evolved in recent years, the stigma around mental health issues is still enshrined in society.
A recent report by the charity Mind reveals that among 43,892 staff from 74 organisations, nearly half (48%) had experienced mental health issues including stress, anxiety and low mood at work.
Of those respondents, just half decided to talk to their employers about their problems, which confirms that some employees ‘don’t always feel supported enough at work’, says a spokesperson from the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
With workload unmanageable at times and rising pressures, how can organisations encourage their employees to come forward about their mental health problems?
What is the issue with mental health?
‘Historically, mental health has not been well understood and people with mental health problems were often subjected to horrendous treatment and institutionalisation’, says Mind’s workplace wellbeing head Emma Mamo.
Although the topic is still a taboo, raising public awareness and understanding of mental health through campaigns such as Time to Change, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, have in part changed the way we think about mental health.
Ms Mamo says: ‘We now have a much better understanding of the fact that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health and that we need to look after it.
‘There is also greater recognition that mental and physical health problems go hand in hand and therefore need to be given equal importance and not looked at in isolation but together.’
Even though employers are increasingly recognising the need to prioritise the wellbeing of their staff, mental health services have been underfunded for decades, with only one in three people with mental health problems getting any kind of help and support, according to Ms Mamo.
She continues: ‘There is a plan to improve mental health services over the next few years, which comes with funding attached, but we need to ensure that funding reaches the frontline and that there is longer term investment beyond 2021.
‘We will continue campaigning for better mental health services – from the support people get when they first visit their GP right through to hospital treatment for people experiencing a mental health crisis – until everyone gets the help and support they need, when they need it.’
Why does mental health matter at work?
Not only is making mental health a priority in the workplace important in helping the affected people, it is also vital for business.
In 2017, the charity the Centre for Mental Health estimated that mental health issues in the UK cost employers around £35bn due to staff turnover, reduced productivity and sickness absence.
According to Mind, employees are more likely to be loyal and motivated at work if they get the right support for their mental health wellbeing.
What can organisations do to help their employees talk about mental health?
According to Ms Mamo, employers can incentivise their employees to talk about their mental health by:
- Creating buddy systems and regular catch ups with managers such as one-to-one meetings
- Offering flexible working hours and the option to work in different spaces
- Implementing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which provide 24-hour confidential support to help employees deal with personal or work-related problems (fees apply)
- Providing subsidised gym memberships, which save money in the long run. Evaluations of workplace interventions by audit company Deloitte show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.