Why your business has to tackle mental health head on

Mental health problems are more common than you may think – figures from Mind, the mental health charity show that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

The effects of the coronavirus lockdown might even make this figure higher – being stuck between the same four walls can have a negative impact on mental health at the best of times, feelings that will be exacerbated by the pandemic ad talk of death and illness, not to mention insecurity over jobs and personal and business finance.

May 9 to 15 is Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign designed to help encourage people to talk about mental health and address and issues head on. This year’s campaign will focus on the problem of loneliness.

The good news is that it seems a growing number of us are more willing to talk about mental health issues, as Positive Group, a company that helps employees of organisations manage pressure and adapt to change and uncertainty, reporting it has seen a 40% increase in the number of people it worked with in 2016 when compared to 2015.

And while this is good for the well-being and productivity of employees and management alike, it’s worth considering that it could also lead to more employees taking more time off through sick days – so it’s vital your business tackles mental health head on and takes active steps to reduce the incidence of mental health problems.

The state of mental health in the UK

There are a wide range of mental health problems that affect people in different ways, and a survey is carried out in England every seven years to identify the number of people experiencing each – new survey results are due, but the last published results in 2009 reported the following figures:

Depression 2.6 in 100 people
Anxiety 4.7 in 100 people
Mixed anxiety and depression 9.7 in 100 people
Phobias 2.6 in 100 people
OCD 1.3 in 100 people
Panic disorder 1.2 in 100 people
Post traumatic stress disorder 3.0 in 100 people
Eating disorders 1.6 in 100 people

Other mental health problems are asked over a person’s lifetime, and although these figures can vary quite significantly, the most commonly reported figures are:

Suicidal thoughts 17 in 100 people
Self-harm 3 in 100 people
Personality disorders 3 to 5  in 100 people
Bipolar disorder 1 to 3 in 100 people
Schizophrenia 1 to 3 in 100 people

A 2017 study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that there are alarmingly low reports of good mental health in the UK, and that many issues seem to be work and age related. This is something that will have been made worse by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

2,290 people were interviewed as part of the study, which found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of people have experienced mental health issues, but this rises to around 70% in women, adults aged 18 to 34 and people living alone.

People aged over 55 report better than average mental health and are also more likely to do things that have a positive impact, such as sleeping and eating well, getting outdoors, and mixing with friends and family.

More than 40% said they have experienced depression, while over 25% claim to have experienced panic attacks.

Income and employment also plays a huge part. People living in the lowest household income bracket report having experienced a mental health problem, compared to 6 in 10 of the highest household income bracket.

While a huge 85% of people out of work have experienced a mental health problem compared to 66% of those in work and just over 50% of people who have retired.

Mental health in the workplace

As the stigma attached to mental health declines so more and more people are prepared get help, but as life becomes faster and more challenging, and the pressures of work and home life increase, the numbers suffering from stress and anxiety may rise.

Dr Brian Marien, co-founder of Positive Group said: “The stigma around stress and anxiety is coming down and employers are playing a big role here but more needs to be done.   As life becomes faster and more challenging, the numbers suffering from stress and anxiety is only set to rise”.

“Most business are well aware of the business benefits of a healthy workforce but it is the more progressive, enlightened organisations that are taking active steps to reduce the incidence of mental health problems.”

British employers are losing on average 27.5 days of productive time per employee each year as staff are off work sick of generally underperform, costing the UK economy as much as £73 billion, according to figures from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW), March 2017.

Gemma Harding, head of corporate services at CALLCARE, an outsourced call centre provider that commissioned a report into stress in the workplace, said: “Looking after members of staff isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. Stress-related illnesses can cause long term absences, lower levels of employee engagement and increased chances that staff will leave; all of which are detrimental to a business looking to grow.”

So how can you take steps to tackle work-related mental health problems?

How to tackle mental health problems in the workplace

April 2017 is Stress Awareness Month, meaning now is as good a time as any to get mental health and well-being on the agenda at your business.

Stress is a common problem that can affect employees of all levels to varying degrees, and it’s important that managers do whatever they can to help reduce the daily pressures by taking steps to share the workload or take time out to create a better working environment.

If staff are regularly staying at their desks through lunch or juggling multiple tasks at once, be aware that this will be having a negative effect on their health, and the wider productivity of the company, so insist employees use lunch breaks to get away from their work and maybe take a walk, socialise with other members of staff, or even sit and read a book, anything to help them switch off from work.

Offering employees the chance to work away from the office can also help reduce stress and increase productivity, particularly if they have a stressful commute to the office, but try to limit the amount of out-of-hours work they take home – an ‘always-on‘ culture is no good for anyone.

It might also be worth trying initiatives such as ‘Well-being Wednesdays’, to encourage exercise and healthy eating among employees – a healthy body really can be the key to a healthy mind.

No matter how you decide to tackle the issue of mental health, the important thing to remember is it affects different people in different ways, so always encourage people to talk about any problems they might be having, in complete confidence, and take steps to help them through any difficulties.

How to tackle mental health problems for staff coming back to work after lockdown

It will be difficult to gauge how the pandemic has affected employees, as each will have had different experiences – not least those who’ve experienced the virus first hand.

People will also have handled lockdown very differently – if you have any remote workers, there’s a good chance they’ll not have felt as much of an impact from remote working as those who are used to going to the office each day and thrive off that structure.

You may also find people are badly affected by uncertainty around their job, especially if some were furloughed while others weren’t.

How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem is a guide from Mind that offers advice on how to create a culture that encourages staff to be open about mental health and useful tips on how to have a conversation with someone about their mental health.

If you feel like you or someone you know could be experiencing mental health problems, get in touch with Mind on 0330 123 3393 or text 86463.

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