Mental health in the workplace: are we doing enough?

By: Rachael Matthews

Date: 20 December 2018

Are we doing enough for mental health in the workplaceFrom workplace wellness to puppy rooms for exam stress, mental health awareness seems to be everywhere we look. Businesses are building on-site meditation rooms, hosting morning yoga classes and even holding stand-up comedy classes to promote healthy minds.

At the same time, the stats show a population struggling more than ever with mental health. Anxiety has become a silent epidemic, with more than eight million people in the UK suffering from a disorder.

What's more, problems are on the increase, with severe mental ill-health issues rising 2.3% in the 20 years to 2014. There are many theories about the factors behind this - including the increased pressures of modern workplaces.

Despite the rise in workplace wellness awareness, it seems we're still feeling more stressed than ever.

The student world shows a similar pattern: while Wellbeing Weeks gain popularity, mental health services are outsourced, and the number of students reporting a mental health condition has risen by almost 500% in just 10 years.

Mental health ‘brushed over'

As businesses work to create a new type of workplace culture, many commentators are calling for more to be done.

Hayley Mulenda is one of the young leaders paving the way for workplace change. At just 20, she has been described as “an inspiration for the next generation” for her international speeches about her personal battle.

Working alongside Speakers Corner, she delivers insightful talks to corporations, schools and councils, focusing on how to make a comeback from dark times, having contemplated suicide herself in 2016.

Hayley passionately believes more must be done to open up the conversation around mental health, especially in the workplace.

“I think many brush over the topic of the mental health,” says Hayley. “Many institutions and corporations only bring it up when it's Mental Health Week, World Suicide Prevention Day or International Stress Awareness Week.”

Hayley thinks one of the most productive things businesses can do to look after their employees' mental health is to develop an environment to make everyone feel comfortable.

She added: “Creating a space where people can be vulnerable and share their experiences is healthy. Bottling stuff up can be toxic and draining, it's important to create a culture where people are open and honest.”

Call for mental health first aiders

If creating a positive environment is the best way employers can help their employees, what does such an environment look like?

Campaigners are calling for every workplace in the UK to have a mental health first aider, since they believe this is the type of structural change that would genuinely help workers who are going through a crisis.

The concept is simple: Mental Health First Aiders England provides evidence-based, accredited training to your nominated member of staff, improving the way their organisation approaches mental health at work.

This training also helps employers in the long term, since mental ill-health costs businesses £34.9 billion each year in reduced productivity, absence and staff turnover costs.

It aims to provide clarity about what mental illness actually is, as well as guidance on how to negotiate difficult workplace situations. Employers still struggle to differentiate between poor performance and poor mental health.

With the right training, it is hoped that businesses can learn how handle each situation sensitively and appropriately, helping them hold on to the best talent and create a supportive environment.

The role of workplace health and safety

Other policies, such as sensible operations management and encouraging regular screen breaks, can also be used to manage workplace stress.

These are known as workplace health and safety solutions, and they include compassionate bereavement policies, as well as efforts to create an inclusive workplace.

Creating a mentally healthy and safe environment involves fine-tuning every aspect of business policy - right down to sensitively managing a termination of employment. Campaigners say these types of policies offer more practical support for employees experiencing a mental health issue than wellness gimmicks alone.

Great employee benefits can also help prevent work-related mental health problems. Flexible working can help to reduce stress - especially for parents searching for work-life balance.

While these benefits can have a positive impact on wellbeing, more significant changes can help to dig beneath the surface, providing the foundations for a working culture that truly understands mental health.

Positive changes are slowly being made - but perhaps more can be done to end the stigma for good.

Copyright © 2018 Article was provided by Rachael Matthews.