Talking mental health

It’s a subject that could affect us all at one point in our lives – one in four of us will experience a mental health issue in any given year[1] – and one that has gathered a great deal of interest in the media and from the Government in recent years. So, why is mental health still a matter which we shy away from? And, why do some employers struggle to tackle the issue head-on when it comes to safeguarding their employees from poor mental health?

When we consider how much time we spend at work, it makes complete sense that our mental health is affected by the stresses and strains of everyday work life, with around 560,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, anxiety or depression, according to the Health and Safety Executive.[2]

As such, it’s important that employers – of all sizes and from all sectors – take the necessary steps to help improve their teams’ mental health and detect any warning signs before they progress.

What is mental health?
Firstly, it’s essential to understand what we mean when we say ‘mental health’. Broadly speaking, it includes everything from stress and anxiety, to depression, bipolar disorder and varying degrees of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

As well as having a huge impact on individual employees, poor mental health has severe repercussions for employers – including increased staff turnover and sickness absence due to mental health issues, burnout and exhaustion, decreased motivation and lost productivity. In fact, poor mental health costs the Government up to £27 billion in paying for benefits, falls in tax revenue and NHS services.[3]

Spotting the signs
While there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all in terms of mental health, there are some signs to look out for:

  • Psychological: Worry, distress, tearfulness, low mood, low motivation, loss of humour, poor concentration, pessimism, lacking in confidence.
  • Physical: Tiredness, headaches, appetite and weight changes, shakiness, sweating, difficulty breathing.
  • Behavioural: Increased smoking/drinking, irritability, anger or aggression, being late, uncharacteristic errors, increased sickness absence, overreaction to problems.

Reducing the stigma
Despite mental health gaining the public’s attention in recent years with high profile figures such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge showing their support via charity Heads Together, collectively we’re still not completely comfortable with the subject. For instance, 45% of employees say they wouldn’t feel confident to share feelings of unmanageable stress or mental health issues with their employer or manager[4].

So, what can you do as an employer? The importance of addressing the issue should not be underestimated and there are certain ways you can help, such as:

  • Don’t make assumptions about how someone’s feeling
  • Ensure trust and confidentiality
  • Listen – and don’t judge
  • Don’t say things like ‘why can’t you just get over it’ or ‘you don’t look depressed’
  • Encourage a healthy work/life balance.

If you’d like to find out more about detecting and managing mental health issues among your workforce, download our eBook, ‘Understanding the Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace’.

[1] Health & Social Information Centre Social Care Statistics

[2] Health and Safety Executive; Work-related Stress, Depression or Anxiety Statistics in Great Britain; 2017.

[3] Thriving at Work; Review of mental health and employers; 2017