Mental Health in the Workplace

With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some kind of mental health problem each year, it’s a wonder why there continues to be such a stigma attached to talking about it, particularly in the workplace.

A recent report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, has found more than 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. The report also revealed that the cost of poor mental health to the UK economy is estimated to be up to £99 billion per year. These figures show that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and by taking effective steps to promote mental health in the workplace, we can remove the stigma and help to boost productivity.

Identifying the signs

Mental health issues don’t present themselves as clearly as a broken bone or a winter cold and many tend to suffer in silence for fear of repercussions or a lack of knowledge around what they are going through. Therefore, it’s important to look out for these signs which indicate that an employee may be struggling and ultimately help to avoid long term suffering:

– Social withdrawal.

– A change in eating habits.

– Lack of concentration.

– Changes in attendance.

– Low self-confidence.

– Lack of motivation.

– Mood swings.

Approaches

Unless you’re a professional, the majority of employers and colleagues are not qualified to give advice about mental health issues. It is therefore vital to create an understanding environment that is there to support those who may be suffering.

If you notice one of the identifying signs, check in with the person in question but, it may take a few gentle conversations before an employee discloses anything. Build the trust so they can feel comfortable and more willing to talk.

Making mental health part of the office dialogue is an excellent way to raise awareness and encourage people to talk. Discuss it in meetings, circulate information in office newsletters and acknowledge the resources that are available from mental health charities. Such familiarity around the topic will ultimately help to reduce stigma and shift importance towards a workplace culture that puts wellbeing first.

A healthy work environment plays an important role when it comes to our mental health. Overworking and unnecessary stress can cause and even exacerbate problems. Ensuring a healthy work/life balance can be an important step in prevention while benefiting everyone within the company.

Advice for employers:

– Create an open and honest environment.

– Provide mental health support.

– Encourage an office dialogue around mental health.

– Ensure a healthy work/life balance for all employees.

– Make sure employees are aware of stress management and mental health resources.

Advice for employees

Speaking out about a mental health issue you may be dealing with is the first, and hardest, step to overcome. It’s important to note that you are not obliged to disclose the exact details of your health concerns so make sure you communicate with your manager, or someone in HR, in terms you feel comfortable with.

If your organisation is open to the idea of taking a mental health day, it is best to be honest about it, but simply requesting a sick day cannot be be debated. The Equality Act (2010) also states that your employer has a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your work. So, if you feel comfortable, being as open as possible about your health concerns will mean you and your employer can work together to find a suitable solution.

On a more personal level, there are a few easy steps you can take to improve your mental wellbeing within the workplace:

– Prioritise effectively to maintain a good work/life balance

– Regular exercise.

– Better food choices.

– Ensure you are getting quality sleep.

– Build and maintain good relationships with colleagues.

– Ask for help if you need it.