Workplace Mental Health

Hands up if you know someone at work with a mental health problem. Now keep your hand up if you would be comfortable talking to them about it.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), mental health problems affect 1 in 4 British workers each year and there is growing evidence to show that this number is increasing. The HSE also forecasts that the number of working days lost because of mental health problems will soon exceed those taken for all other work-related illnesses. Yet a survey by the charity Time to Change found that mental health remains one of the last taboos in the workplace, with more people questioned being comfortable discussing sex or money with a colleague than their mental health!

The costs to employers of poor mental health in the workplace are substantial. Using conservative assumptions, Deloitte has estimated a total annual cost to businesses of up £45bn. However, the Institute of Safety and Health (IoSH) found that less than a third of line managers had been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of mental ill health in their staff suggesting that there is an urgent need for organisations to change the way that mental health is discussed in the workplace, giving it the same significance as physical health.

“We have a shared responsibility to create environments at work which foster and promote good mental health. A culture of support and encouragement for people to be open about their mental health, alongside well- informed, compassionate and meaningful emotional and practical support is central to enabling people to maintain a sense of direction and purpose when inevitable challenges occur.”

Dr Joanna BainesClinical Lead, Three Eggs

So, what can employers do to support the mental health of their staff? Deloitte recommends that more needs to be done to tackle the stigma associated with mental health problems, increase awareness in the workplace and provide adequate training for employees. They found that employers who were aware of the importance of mental health and emotional wellbeing had an organisational culture of openness, acceptance and awareness, including mandatory training on wellbeing. As a result, more individuals understood the link between their mental health and productivity and what to do when they or their colleagues experienced challenging circumstances.

Training can take the form of workshops for groups of staff, providing them with an opportunity to learn about different aspects of mental health. Importantly, these workshops ‘start the mental health conversation’ – letting employees know that ‘in this organisation, it’s ok to talk about mental health’. Advice for starting conversations about mental health includes:

  • Making the individual know they are not alone – mental health problems are very common and can be treated;
  • Asking open questions (such as ‘How are you feeling?’), to encourage the other person to engage in a discussion;
  • Giving the other person plenty of time to talk, without interruption;
  • Listening without judgement and expressing empathy so that the other person feels supported.

Many companies are starting to provide some staff with further, more in-depth Mental Health First Aid training to become mental health ambassadors for their organisation. These individuals act as a point of contact for anyone who is concerned about their own or a colleague’s mental health. They can offer the listening ear that so many people find helpful when they are suffering poor mental health and can also signpost the staff member to next step support.

Every member of an organisation has mental health – recognising the importance of good workplace mental health by training staff to talk about it helps the whole business to remain productive. Now, whose hand is still up?

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