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Mental Health at work: Why employers should care


An astounding 1 in 6 British workers are dealing with stress, anxiety or depression at any one time, and mental health problems among employees add up to an estimated 70 million sick days each year.


It’s a startling statistic, and yet the vast majority of firms and companies have absolutely nothing in place to support those employees affected.


In fact, the whole subject of mental health at work is still shrouded in silence, despite it affecting so many people.


Mental health charity Mind says that mental health issues are now the leading cause of sickness absences from work in the UK. But among those people who have taken time off work due to workplace stress, 95% of them gave a different reason to their boss. And the Time to Change Public Attitudes Survey of workers revealed 49% still felt uncomfortable talking to an employer about their mental health.


As an employer or manager, why should you care?


Mental ill-health is already estimated to cost UK employers over £30billion a year, due to lost productivity, recruitment and absence.


Put simply, a healthy - physically or mentally - employee is more likely to be happy, productive and loyal.


What can you do?


There is still a massive stigma attached to mental health issues. People are often frightened of what they can’t see or don’t understand.


If one of your workers breaks an arm, for example, you usually have a frame of reference for this. You know how long they are likely to be out of action, and if they’ll need a little help getting back to normal on their return to work. But it never occurs to you to think that they won’t recover or be just as strong and successful in the future.


Mental illness can be a lot more tricky to predict. Couple that with a tendency to associate mental illness with “weakness”, and you can begin to understand why people are reluctant to be open about their mental health - often they feel marginalised and isolated anyway, so the last thing they need is to feel like their colleagues will avoid talking to them because of their illness, or they’ll get overlooked for that future promotion because their boss thinks they won’t be able to hack it.


Mental illness doesn’t affect us


The thing about mental ill health is that it’s indiscriminate - there’s no ‘type’. There won’t be a business in the country that is not affected in some way. You wouldn’t think that you or your colleagues would be immune from cancer, so why should depression or mental illness be any different?


In fact, within a professional, fast-paced environment it can be even more pronounced, as often very driven or successful people will find it very difficult indeed to be open about their mental health.


Breaking down the stigma


There are plenty of steps any employer can take to help address mental ill health in the workplace and - crucially - to make sure that those people affected feel supported and reassured that life can and does go on.


Practical steps might include:


  • Ensuring that any medical or life insurance you have in place as a company has mental health cover
  • Setting up mental health ‘first aiders’: it wouldn’t occur to you not to have first aid at work. Check out www.mfaengland.org to find out about mental health first aid courses
  • Educate your staff. Give access to resources, perhaps on your intranet, which will help them become more literate in mental health issues and encourage them to seek support earlier
  • Make sure HR staff have at least some basic training to understand mental health issues generally
  • Address work/life balance issues. Some firms operate a no-email policy between 8pm and 8am. Don’t contact staff on holiday, and make it possible for people to take time off for personal and family commitments
  • Identify any triggers in the workplace. Survey your staff, or use any supervision sessions to simply ask how people are doing
  • Make the most of support that is already available, either through employee assistance programmes or by signposting staff who are RICS members to LionHeart for a range of support including free counselling

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