Posted By Paul Shires

Posted on5th February 2015

Mental health has long been a taboo subject, seen as a stigma by those that suffer, and a ‘sensitive issue’ for employers. And this is only when the problems have been recognised. Individuals that do suffer from stress or anxiety, for example, may be reluctant to admit their suffering, causing the symptoms to worsen. Unlike any physical condition, it is often difficult for an outside observer to recognise that there is anything wrong.

What are the costs of mental ill health?

Denial of mental health ‘problems’ is not uncommon: 42 per cent of workers said that they felt that work stress and anxiety was regarded as a sign of weakness (Mind, 2014), meaning that they go unrecognised, undiagnosed and hence untreated.

But there’s no escaping the fact that mental health is a serious problem for businesses and the economy. All too often, employers are first made aware there is a problem when an employee takes time off work, which can have a huge impact, both financially to the business and the pressure put on the remaining employees.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the total cost to employers of mental health problems, among their staff, is estimated at nearly £70 billion each year. This is equivalent to £1,035 for every employee in the UK workforce (OECD, 2014). They also report that stress accounts for 40 per cent of all work related illnesses.

The Mental Health Foundation predicts that by 2030, even if rates of prevalence stay the same as they are now, there will be approximately 2 million more adults in the UK with mental health problems than today, due to population growth (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

How can employers help?

Fortunately, the effects that mental health can have on individuals and businesses are more widely acknowledged and openly discussed, so the levels of stigma are reducing. More people are willing to publically admit to struggling with their mental health, thereby providing a wider support network. This is important since, according to the NHS, one in four British adults will experience at least one mental health condition at some point in their life.

Employers have it in their power to help their employees recognise their symptoms and seek appropriate help, by following a few simple steps:

1. Equip managers to recognise the signs

Ensure managers know the signs of common mental health conditions. The symptoms of stress and common mental health problems can include: fatigue, weight loss, headaches and tearfulness.

2. Signpost staff to support services

Make sureemployees know about your Employee Assistance Programme, and ensure line managers mention it whenever they talk to those showing signs of stress or mental illness. Just 25 per cent of employees say their organisation encourages staff to talk openly about mental health issues. (Mind, 2013)

3. Get resilient

A preventative approach should be an employer’s ultimate aim, as well as becoming an employer who is positive about mental health. A way to engage employees is to encourage them to come up with their own solutions for mental resilience. For example the social enterprise ‘Mindapples’ advocates sharing your ‘5-a-day’ for the mind – the things you do to feel happier.

4. Develop greater work/life balance initiatives

Encouraging regular breaks, eating lunch away from desks and discouraging 24/7 work access, unless absolutely necessary, are all ways to help reduce stress levels within an organisation.

5. Promote a culture of awareness and acceptance

Breaking down the culture of silence around mental health should be a priority, the most important thing employers can do is promote a culture where people can discuss problems openly, without the fear of being stigmatised and seek help when they need it.

Here’s to a brighter future

The fact that you have read this suggests that you have an interest in the subject of mental health. Perhaps you suffer yourself, or know someone that does. Perhaps you’re an employer who has lost a member of staff through mental ill health. Or perhaps you are a forward thinking employer who wants to reduce the chance of your employees suffering from a mental health condition.

The figures speak for themselves:

  • A Warwick University study found that people in a happy state of mind are 12 per cent more productive. (2014)
  • Nearly 70 per cent who have used an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) have recovered or improved following counselling. (EAP Association Research, 2012)

The more people talk about mental health, the easier it becomes to deal with both for the individual and the employer. But it will take time and understanding.

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