Mental health – why we need to break the culture of silence

24th January by Lee Robertson

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Mental health – why we need to break the culture of silence

Mental health is an issue organisations can no longer afford to ignore.

Statistics published by Time to Change, state that one in four British workers are affected by conditions like anxiety, depression and stress every year. Moreover, mental ill-health is the country’s leading cause of workplace absence and costs an average of £1,035 per employee per year. And, because of the stigma still attached to mental health illness, 95% of employees who called in ill with stress gave a different reason to explain their sick leave.

There had been hope that there would be a potential change in law on workplace mental health. In mid-January, a parliamentary debate saw a cross party group of MPs overwhelmingly backing a motion to introduce legislation to put mental and physical first aid on an equal footing. However, despite its high level of support, there has been no firm commitment from the Government to update current First Aid regulations.   

The proposed changes would have meant that under health and safety law, workplaces would have to make provision for mental health as well as physical first aid and employers would need to provide appropriate training to help employees deal with mental health issues.

While there are many organisations committed to caring for the wellbeing of their employees, there is still not enough being done to address the problem. This is especially disappointing when common sense tells us that looking after the mental health of our employees makes good business sense.

There are several ways we can start tacking mental health in the workplace. Time for Change is one of them. It is a growing movement designed to end discrimination around the subject. They are asking businesses to pledge their support and demonstrate their commitment to helping change perceptions about mental health and act to help stop people suffering in silence. Since signing its Employer Pledge, 95% of employers have said that it has had a positive impact on their organisation.

Holding its annual Time to Talk Day on Thursday 7 February, those behind Time for Change want everyone to have a conversation about mental health. With half of those enduring mental ill-health saying that the isolation and shame they experience is worse than the mental health condition itself, Time to Talk Day is a brilliant way of getting us all to open up about what has wrongly been regarded as a taboo subject.

Discussing mental health problems with friends and colleagues will allow us to break down stereotypes about mental health, improve relationships and can also help be the first step on the pathway to recovery. You don’t need to be an expert to do your bit. Simply, check in, listen, don’t judge and treat them the same way you treat everyone else. This is something then can affect us all and simple actions like talking about mental health will help remove the stigma once and for all.

Managers to spot early warning signs of mental health conditions

Going forward, this isn’t just an issue for our HR departments. A mental health framework for companies should also consider training for all managers who have direct line reports. Empowering them so they can spot early warning signs of mental health conditions and giving them the competency to have sensitive conversations with team members is a necessity.

The impact mental health can have on an organisation’s performance cannot be ignored any longer. Embedding a wellbeing scheme in every workplace that addresses both physical and mental health will yield numerous benefits for employers and employees alike with positive outcomes including a healthier and happier workforce, increased staff loyalty, better employee retention, lower absenteeism and greater productivity and creativity.

It can only be a win-win situation.