Is Your Company Giving Mental Health the Attention It Deserves?

George Bell
Is Your Company Giving Mental Health the Attention It Deserves?

We recently conducted a study investigating workplace attitudes towards mental health in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, but we want to expand on this further. 

Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic campaign that helps to bring a renewed annual focus to mental health issues around the world. It breaks down social stigmas and gives those that have never suffered a greater understanding of what it means to have a mental health illness.

But, in truth, every week should to be a mental health awareness week. We all have a mind that requires care and attention, and so, we all should maintain awareness of this state of well-being. Not just for ourselves, but also for those around us.

Perhaps the most important environment in which to keep mental health at the forefront of our minds is in the workplace. Our jobs are not just where we spend the vast majority of our waking hours, they are also often the greatest source of stress in our daily lives. That’s why everyone within an organisation should feel obliged to have a solid understanding of mental health issues, and why businesses need to be fully prepared to support their employees in times of need.

Mental health; a global problem

Mental health issues are staggeringly prevalent; far more so than many people realise. Research by mental health charity Mind states that 1 in 4 people will suffer in their lifetime, whereas a 2005 study in the United States put the figure as high as 1 in 2.

This is supported by the World Health Organisation, who predict that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide.

While these statistics are shocking, the debate over the precise figures is unimportant. Since mental health issues cover such a broad spectrum of illnesses, it is extremely likely that you know someone who is, has, or one day will, suffer.

Mental illness is a global problem that requires a global solution, both in and out of the workplace. Many consider that the first step in tackling the issue is to dismantle the taboo and promote a wider conversation among friends and colleagues. 

While a problem shared may be a problem halved, open discussion within the workplace can be easier said than done. Many of us feel obliged to uphold a professional persona, or are required to present ourselves as strong and decisive to clients and colleagues. 

Complete transparency can undermine our ability to do our jobs, or negatively impact our career prospects. The challenge that businesses face is to encourage discussion of mental health in a way that employees feel able to seek support, while also maintaining the confidence of employees that any issues will be handled discreetly and in a manner that won’t harm their professional lives.

How can mental health be discussed in the workplace?

So, how can employers effectively, and sensitively, promote mental health conversation in the workplace? With one study finding that over half of UK employees have suffered a burnout because of work, holding these conversations is key to maintaining employee happiness and productivity.

Our recent study showed that the majority of employees are comfortable with such discussions being held: 56% of UK workers stated that they would be confident disclosing their mental health issues with managers. However, far fewer managers, only 39%, felt confident in their ability to handle these issues correctly. 

What this demonstrates is a lack of support from employers in training and up-skilling their leaders to know what to do when a colleague approaches them with mental health concerns.

One household name, adidas, is leading the way in helping employees to discuss mental health at work. They have launched Wellness International, a programme that was ”born out of the commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of personnel at adidas.”

They offer emotional and mental health clinics to all adidas employees, as well as having onsite coaches who are trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), one of the most effective types of mental health treatment. This not only gives employees a safe space to talk, but also a place to talk where they will be dealt with professionally.

Still, there are risks which accompany employees being open about their mental health issues; business must also take steps to ensure that no subsequent discrimination occurs. While the law is on the side of the employee – the Equality Act 2010, of course, protects employees from any form of discrimination – the mindset of managers, who may or may not have influence over the career progression of their team, needs to be aligned with this.

Another global brand with an impressive stance on mental health is Unilever, who run a global health initiative for all of their employees. Mental health training is provided to managers and senior staff, internal campaigns are run to raise awareness, and employees are given regular workshops on issues such as sleep, mindfulness, and exercise.

Unilever want to combat mental health stigma, letting employees know they can talk safely in the workplace, and allowing them to progress through the company fairly. Chief Learning Officer, Tim Munden, has said “if you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees… We want our employees to have confidence to have a conversation about mental health.”

The changing attitudes to mental health

It has been proven that attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are changing. With a 7% increase in those saying they are happy working with someone who has a mental health problem (rising from 69% to 76%), it’s clear that initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week are improving how society views such illnesses.

We’ve also seen these conversations addressed on a global stage through household names such as Prince Harry and Stormzy, opening up about their own struggles with depression.

The fact is, mental health is becoming less taboo, and this has permeated into all aspects of our daily lives as we begin to open up with our friends, families and colleagues. With this comes the added responsibility for us all to be prepared to handle instances of mental illness with the care and consideration that it deserves. 

As the disclosure of mental health concerns looks set to increase in the workplace, businesses must ensure that they don’t just have the necessary support networks in place, but also that they listen to their employees and build a culture and environment that promotes mental well-being and a good work-life balance.

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