Statistics show that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, but many are too afraid to talk about it.
Confiding in friends and family is daunting enough but plucking up the courage to approach a work colleague, or even an employer, about your mental health can seem even worse.
This Thursday, February 6, is Time to Talk Day, an initiative led by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The awareness-raising event aims to get the British public talking about mental health within social circles, friends and at work; perhaps just a brief check of how their mental health is at present and how it may be affecting their lives, families and work.
Mental health can be defined as how we feel, our ability to cope and our ability to carry out tasks or activities day-to-day. Each and every one of us is on a mental health spectrum, where we can fluctuate from well to unwell, on any given day or week, just as our wellbeing can fluctuate from optimal to minimal.
In recent years, reports have found that 13% of all sick days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.
However, employees are three times less likely to report a mental health condition than a physical ailment to their employer.
There are many reasons why this stigma prevails in workplaces across the UK – the fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable, of being dismissed on the basis that “stress is just part of the job” or even of being let go if they admit to “not coping”.
Consequently, workers’ fears can often be exacerbated by their condition, making it even harder to disclose it.
So, what can employers do to support staff members’ mental health and wellbeing?
More workplaces are adopting positive approaches to mental health including helping staff members manage with the pressures at work and home.
Some are introducing “wellbeing officers” or mental health first-aiders who can look out for symptoms and signs that colleagues may be suffering.
They are also providing tools such as listening skills and empathy that can prove to be very effective for struggling co-workers, while arming them with signposting services from which the person can follow up with professional support.
And it’s not just employees who can benefit. Investing in the health and wellbeing of your workforce can increase loyalty and reduce staff turnover as well as improve productivity and longevity.
A focus on employee wellbeing can create enjoyable and rewarding work environments while building good employee/employer relationships, which consequently helps companies retain key skill sets and improve staff morale, ultimately improving a company’s reputation.
There are some easy ways to help deal proactively and reactively with mental health issues. These include:
• Developing an action plan to change attitudes;
• Creating a mental health policy to set out values;
• Training managers and ensuring they champion awareness and fight stigma;
• Tackling work-related causes of mental ill-health;
• Educating the workforce.
Crucially, employees need to feel that they will not be judged or criticised for having a mental health condition and can therefore ask for the support they need.
This Thursday, why not make your employees and colleagues know that you’re there for them whether they need space to decompress, a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to?
Or if you’re feeling down, stressed or anxious, use the opportunity to speak with someone.
After all, it pays to talk.
Dr Louise Slaney, Medical Director, Iqarus