World Mental Health Day: achieving equality between mental and physical health in the workplace
We’ve come along way in our awareness and understanding of the importance of mental health, but equality between mental and physical wellbeing at work has still not been reached. On World Mental Health Day, take time to consider how, as an HR professional, you can spur on progression.
This World Mental Health Day (October 10th 2019) is an opportunity for us all to improve our own education on mental health, raise awareness and advocate against social stigma. With the World Health Organisation stating that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue each year, and other sources suggesting an even higher proportion, the chances are every person reading this will have been impacted by mental ill health – either their own, or that of someone they know.
We don’t leave our mental health at the door when we come to work and so it’s important the right culture and structure is in place to encourage those who are struggling to speak up and receive the help they need.
Our research reveals that 56% of people are unsure or unlikely to speak to their line manager if they have a mental health issue. This sadly echoes stats we released earlier in the year that showed almost 40% of employees would be ok talking to their manager about cancer compared to just 12% who feel they could discuss bipolar disorder.
Employers have both a moral and a business incentive to build a long-term action plan for supporting the mental health of their workforce.
Why we need mental health first aiders
For more than 30 years UK employers have been legally required to ensure employees can be given immediate first aid if they are physically injured or taken ill at work.
We live in a society where physical health is often spoken about without embarrassment or shame in the workplace. Support and advice for those who present with physical ill health in the workplace are typically shown sympathy and guided to the right service for them – whether that is a physical first aider, their local GP or an emergency clinic.
As a result of campaigns calling for equality for mental and physical health in the workplace, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) now asks employers to consider appointing mental health trained first aiders to manage mental ill health in the workplace.
Mental health first aiders are trained to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis – and even potentially stop a crisis from happening. They know how to recognise warning signs of mental ill health, and develop the skills and confidence to approach and support someone while keeping themselves safe.
Encouraging prevention and building a plan
We don’t need to wait until we are struggling with our mental health; there are lots of things we can do to protect ourselves and prevent problems escalating, just as we do with our physical health.
Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword, but encouraging employees to take time to help keep their minds as healthy as they can is really important. Beginning steps to take include practicing mindfulness, eating the right things and getting enough sleep.
Businesses must ensure there is a strong focus across prevention, early intervention and support. People need to be able to thrive from the outset.
Mental ill health costs employers up to £42 billion annually and 300,000 people (a population the size of Newcastle) fall out of work each year due to mental illness. Employers have both a moral and a business incentive to build a long-term action plan for supporting the mental health of their workforce. Evidence shows the return is between £1.50 and £9 on every pound spent.
We’re heading the wrong way...
Recently Business in the Community (BITC) published their Mental Health at Work 2019 Report. Their latest findings revealed that 39 per cent of employees have experienced poor mental health owing to their work, or where work was a contributing factor, in the past year.
This figure was 36 per cent in both 2017 and 2018, showing movement in the wrong direction. It’s therefore important for organisations to continue to work to foster a culture that not only protects but enhances mental health for their diverse workforces.
The report calls on businesses to achieve this by creating good work which enhances mental health for everyone; acknowledging and supporting poor mental health, whatever the cause; and publicly reporting their wellbeing performance.
Taking a multifaceted approach to wellbeing
Businesses must ensure there is a strong focus across prevention, early intervention and support. People need to be able to thrive from the outset. This means looking at basic hygiene factors within the organisation, like healthy job design, diversity and inclusion and fair and equal pay, along with flexible working and reasonable adjustments.
All employers should strive to eradicate the causes of stress and burnout wherever possible and actively look at opportunities to improve wellbeing – whether that be physical, financial, emotional or social.
Wherever you are on the wellbeing journey, consider what more you can do to improve the mental health of your colleagues.
Employees must also be empowered to intervene and offer support early on if they notice a colleague is struggling with their mental health. This means giving managers the knowledge and the skills to support their line reports and thinking about the role Mental Health First Aid training can play.
Finally, there needs to be clear pathways to further support in the workplace. That might be a notice board on self-help information, clear information on accessing GP support or signposting to an Employee Assistance Programme if one is available.
Just this week, Public Health England launched a free to access self-help tool called Every Mind Matters and we strongly recommend that employers provide clear signposting to this NHS-backed resource and make it accessible for all staff.
This World Mental Health Day I urge you to look again at your organisation and, wherever you are on the wellbeing journey, consider what more you can do to improve the mental health of your colleagues.
Simon Blake is the Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England which offers expert workplace guidance and training to support people’s mental health - giving people the tools to better support themselves and each other. Please visit https://mhfaengland.org/ to find out more....