The Elephant in the Room

9 Feb 2018
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Organisations should address mental health for the good of their business

Mental health has been big news for some time, in the media it really took hold when Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge appeared in the 2017 BBC1 series, Mind over Marathon. That was the springboard for their Heads Together campaign , and since then they have spoken candidly about their own mental health and the impact the loss of their mother, Diana Princess of Wales, had on them.

The campaign has strengthened over the year, and since the start of 2018 we have seen Prince William and Catherine visiting primary and secondary schools to open the conversation on mental health in schools.
The British government has also made a commitment to mental health partly in answer to the Royals’ call to action but also prior to that (January 2017) Theresa May had commissioned a report on mental health in the workplace and the result was the Stevenson/Farmer review on mental health and employers, called the Thriving at Work report (October 2017).
We know that being in work is good for our well being, and with the UK’s historically high employment rates that’s good news. But we should also acknowledge that the workplace is a primary source of stress and causes mental ill health such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s worthwhile addressing mental health as part of an organisation’s general well being plans – essentially that means placing mental and physical health in the same catagory.
But it can be a difficult thing to address. Many people feel squeamish talking about their own mental health – we can easily talk about that broken foot or having the flu, but saying you’re suffering from depression… that’s another matter! It feels intensely personal, rather like being asked to show your finances to the office or being asked to describe in depth how you go about making love! We all know it happens, we all know people who have children so there’s living, breathing proof they’ve ‘done it’ but we don’t necessarily want to share the details – and that’s how privately mental health is viewed. It’s a taboo subject, and yet we all have it.
You might be surprised to know that mental health enjoys something called ‘parity of esteem’ – that’s the principle by which mental health must be given equal priority to physical health, and it’s enshrined in law by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This means that organisations are legally obliged to ensure that their employees are in a fit state both physically and mentally to attend work.
It also impacts on other legal and Health and Safety regulations: if an organisation is made aware of a mental health issue (e.g. depression) and does not follow it up (e.g. by supporting the employee, such as making reasonable adjustments to working conditions or allowing time off for medical/therapy appointments) they may be liable to legal action should the employee suffer further as a result of the organisation’s actions (or lack therefore), or even be involved in more serious consequences should the employee cause injury or death – think about all those company car drivers and long distance truck drivers out on the road, not to mention any number of people working under pressure ranging from being in charge of heavy machinery, to managing train schedules or keeping an eye on air traffic.
By opening the conversation on mental health at work, employees can feel supported by their employers and by their colleagues, and they are far more likely to be able to remain in work or return to work after a period of absence, thus reducing long-term absenteeism. It is estimated that mental health costs the UK economy £70 billion per year (source: the Work Foundation) – and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg since it is estimated that 95% of employees calling in sick with stress gave a different reason (source: Heads Together).
So it is long past time we invited that elephant into the room, sat it down and talked to it. But where to start?
You might be able to speak to each employee individually depending on the size of the organisation but that could be time consuming and doesn’t really bring it into the open… you could send out an employee newsletter or email but that might be seen as paying lip service to the issue and again doesn’t encourage conversation… maybe appoint a mental health advocate, but again where’s the conversation?
A good way to get people engaged is to invite a third party in the conduct a workshop, that way groups of people participate and results not only in bringing it into the open (“we’re having a workshop on mental health, it’s to bring it out into the open and kick start the conversation”) but it encourages effective teamwork and raised intelligence. By getting people to talk in groups, you can discuss why it’s important collectively, learn from each other and move forward together.
At Mind Your Business we specialise in helping organisations bring mental health into the open, addressing stress in the workplace and offering strategies to cope. It is not the responsibility of the organisation to remove all stressors per se, that would be unrealistic and potentially damaging to the overall well being of the company, but we can give you the tools to cope and build resilience.
If you would like to arrange an appointment to see how we can help your organisation, contact us on or telephone 01798 344879

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