Talking about mental health at work

Here are some pointers for handling mental health issues in the workplace
by Bethan Rees

Take part in our quick survey on how confident you are talking about mental health at workAccording to mental health charity MIND, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental heath problem each year. In England, one in six report experiencing a ‘common’ mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week. These problems aren’t restricted to the UK, of course.

The Mental Health Foundation recently published results of its 2018 study, done by YouGov, of stress levels in UK. The online poll shows shows that 74% of the 4,619 respondents have felt so stressed in the past year that they have been “overwhelmed or unable to cope”. Of those, 51% report feeling depressed and 61% report feeling anxious. 

Mental health has a financial impact on businesses too. AdviserPlus’s analysis of its records of more than 250,000 employees shows that since 2013, more than 1 in 3 (33.9%) absence days in the financial services sector have been due to mental ill health. The cost to employers is approximately £2.4bn per year. 

Ensuring the wellbeing of your staff and limiting the financial cost of poor mental health are clear reasons for placing this issue on the workplace agenda, but for a lot of employees, it’s not that easy to talk about. 
1) Open doorsEmployees should feel as though they can go to their manager with problems, whether that’s feeling overwhelmed or depressed, without it affecting how they are thought of at work. A manager or employer should make sure they operate an ‘open door’ policy, where an employee can express such thoughts. However, speaking face-to-face with a manager isn’t always the solution. 2) Be prepared with solutions A company should provide solutions for those who want to open up about their mental heath. This could be as simple as having the contact details for specialist groups that deal with mental health issues. It could be more complex than that, though. For example, if an employee approaches their manager about having time off from work, the manager should know the ins and outs of employment law and what the options for that employee are, such as taking temporary sick leave, or a sabbatical, if necessary. 
3) Set an example If a manager or employer were to speak up about their personal experiences with mental health, this could potentially help employees follow suit. It’s a way of telling the employees: “It’s OK to feel like this and I’m here if you want to talk to me”. An alternative could be a talk on the importance of changing the way we think and act. 4) Run specific initiatives
For a real hands-on approach to discussing mental health in the work place, the Time to Change campaign, which aims to end the stigma surrounding such issues, has some resources to help employers and managers. There are activities such as the Mental Health pub quiz, which highlights key statistics and facts about mental health issues in a recognised format that could emphasise what people don’t know about problems such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you’re an employee who is passionate about changing the company culture, you could ask your employer to sign the Time to Change pledge, which is a commitment to changing how the business thinks and acts about mental health in the workplace, and make sure that employees who are facing these problems feel supported.   5) Practise mindfulness According to the Mental Health Foundation, mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps to tackle mental health by raising an individual’s awareness about how they are feeling. This helps them to avoid getting overwhelmed by their emotions, and to manage them more effectively. There is evidence backing the beneficial impact of mindfulness on mental health. The biggest review of the practice by researchers at Oxford University found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could help to combat depression as effectively as drugs, and the MBCT course reduced the risk of relapse into depression by 44%. 

Mindfulness can be practised in many ways, individually and in a group setting. For example, an employer could send out a resource or an interesting blog post to employees about mindfulness, with tips on how to practise it, or go as far as scheduling voluntary mindfulness sessions with a professional. Yoga and tai chi have elements of mindfulness in them, too. 

Removing the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace is vitally important to encouraging employers and employees to take a step back and address how they are feeling, and making sure there are support systems in place for those who wish to come forward. 

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Published: 18 May 2018
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