Mental health issues cost the world economy an estimated £1.6 trillion a year according to the Mental Health Foundation (2015). The cost is greater than cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes on their own.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Theresa May said that more focus was needed on mental and physical health, particularly for children and young people. The PM suggested that every secondary school would be offered mental health training. Mental health is clearly on the government’s agenda and gaining greater publicity in the public domain but needs to be a priority for businesses too.
One in four people will experience a mental health issue every year in the UK. Businesses in England are losing an estimated £26 billion annually due to ill mental health.
Mental Health Foundation (2015).
Let’s talk mental health
Mental health can exist in many forms, for example: panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.
Recognising the signs of mental ill health is not easy, especially as for some individuals, their feelings of being low may resurface sporadically. Mental health can affect anyone at any time.
The statistics mentioned above are staggering and highlight the significant impact of mental health. Even more surprising is the fact that despite its significant affect, mental health is still very much a taboo topic. There is still a stigma whereby individuals may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk about mental health issues. If a person does not feel comfortable talking about any mental health issues, then a support plan cannot be set in motion to help them.
Employees suffering from issues with mental health may struggle at work, this could impact their ability to carry out their role. This might lead to performance management or disciplinary proceedings. The stress of this is only going to serve to worsen their mental health.
Mental health in the workplace
Organisations should strive to establish channels of communication that make people comfortable to open up about mental health. This could be simply having someone within HR or a trained staff member on-site, who can offer non-judgemental support and refer the individual for specialist advice if required. Managers should not attempt to provide advice or remedies.
City firms such as KPMG, PWC and Linklaters have raised the profile of mental health problems internally and have committed to establishing an environment where individuals feel comfortable enough to talk about their mental health. Law firm; Hogan Lovells have an in-house counsellor that employees can arrange to see directly without HR or management intervention. Employees should not worry that they may be penalised for disclosing ill mental health.
Companies would be well advised to establish well-being schemes for staff, if possible. Well-being schemes can offer employees a qualified ‘third party’ to discuss their issues with. For example, a scheme may offer a 24-hour confidential helpline which staff can call and receive advice. They can discuss the issues that are causing them stress.
‘Mind’, a mental health charity, highlights just some of the causes of stress:
• Social isolation or loneliness
• Severe or long-term stress
• Unemployment or loss of job
• Drug and alcohol misuse
• Domestic violence
• Physical causes
What can you do to help?
There are many little things that can help employees manage their mental health. Promoting healthy living through the provision of fresh fruit and subsidised gym membership can contribute to overall wellbeing. Ensuring staff maintain a healthy work/life balance is essential. Providing a suggestion box or establishing a staff committee so that employees can share concerns with management may help.
Organisations are advised to put in place a clear accident/ incidence reporting processes so that any acts of violence or abuse are logged and dealt with appropriately. Relevant HR policies are also required such as harassment & bullying, disciplinary, grievance, sickness absence & performance management. Policies should be applied fairly and consistently and without judgement. Employees must feel supported by their employers.
It is encouraged to have an internal mental health first aid qualified individual. Companies such as EY, Channel 4 and Skanska have trained mental health first aiders. This qualification enables the trainee to spot the early signs of mental health and understand what steps should be taken early on, rather than let the condition worsen. Tackling mental health early on could prevent additional stress and improve team morale, therefore improving performance and saving money.
CBW are pleased to announce that we have a trained mental health first aid individual. We believe that this will improve our internal productivity so we can provide the best service to our clients.
Please get in contact with the author if you would like further guidance on mental health in the workplace.