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Addressing mental health in business: a vital investment

By Naomi Saragoussi, Partner

Tuesday 10 October 2023 is World Mental Health Day.  Mental Health Day is defined by the WHO as  “an opportunity for people and communities to unite behind the theme ‘Mental health is a universal human right” to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right”.

Mental illness in the workplace costs UK employers £56 billion a year(i).

Employers have observed a rise in mental health challenges among their workforce. These challenges can manifest as stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout, which can affect productivity and well-being. `

Mental health challenges can lead to decreased productivity (presenteeism),  increased absenteeism or employees leaving the workplace. Employers need to be proactive in addressing these issues to maintain a productive workforce.

The Time to Change campaign (ii), which closed in 2021 and was led by mental health charity Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, found almost half of the UK employees (48%) would feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health at work. 56% of employees according to the Mental Health Foundation would not employ someone with depression.

These surveys highlight the persisting stigma and challenges related to mental health in the workplace in the UK. The findings underscore the importance of ongoing efforts to promote mental health awareness and create supportive environments in the workplace.

In the UK we need to look at the barriers that exist and what employers can do to break them down.  The two most highlighted barriers are explained below:

  • Stigma: The fact that almost half of UK employees would feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health at work suggests that stigma surrounding mental health is still prevalent. This stigma can prevent individuals from seeking help when needed.
  • Employment Discrimination: The statistic that 56% of individuals would not employ someone with depression is concerning. Discrimination against individuals with mental health conditions not only affects their employment opportunities but also perpetuates misconceptions about mental health.

Creating a workplace culture that encourages open conversations about mental health is crucial. Employers should work to reduce stigma and provide resources and support for employees facing mental health challenges.

Raising awareness about mental health issues and offering mental health education can help combat stigma and increase understanding among employees and employers.

It is essential to be aware of legal protections for individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of mental health. Providing flexible work options, such as remote work or flexible hours, can help employees manage their mental health and maintain work-life balance.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are a valuable resource for employees seeking help.  They provide confidential support and counseling services to employees, helping them address mental health concerns without fear of stigma or discrimination.

Leadership within organisations must set an example by openly discussing mental health, encouraging employees to seek help, and fostering a supportive workplace culture.  Employers need to walk the walk and not just have a policy, they pay lip service to.

Employers should:

  • Have clear mental health policies and practices in place, including reasonable accommodations for employees with mental health conditions.
  • Recognise the importance of offering comprehensive mental health benefits as part of their employee benefit packages. This includes access to therapy, counselling, and other mental health resources such as apps and mental health first aiders.
  • Include the above initiatives to be part of an employers wellness programme that includes health components such as stress management workshops and mental health awareness campaigns.
  • Offer mental health training to managers and employees to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and provide tools for recognising and addressing mental health challenges.
  • Foster a workplace culture that prioritises mental health and encourages open conversations about mental well-being. Regular communication with employees about available resources, benefits, and policies related to mental health can be essential in addressing concerns.

Efforts to address mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace are critical for the well-being of employees and the overall success of businesses. It's an ongoing journey that requires commitment from employers, employees, and society as a whole to create more inclusive and supportive work environments promoting understanding and empathy.


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