Cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety reached nearly half a million in 2016-17, causing 12.5 million working days to be lost.
But despite this being a ‘record high’ and awareness also increasing of the problem in the boardroom, businesses are still struggling to put the right support in place.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke with Grace Graham, founder of WorkSpa, which is focused on providing practical relaxation in the workplace. The aim is to help UK Plc deal with reducing and event preventing mental illness at work.
It is perhaps incongruous that our knowledge of how to help people deal with mental health has risen at the same time as we are seeing record levels of people experiencing problems.
And I’m pretty sure every HR in the country will be aware of the theory that if employees feel valued in work environments that support their mental health, they more likely to have higher levels of well-being and productivity.
This is especially keen as evidence keeps on informing us of the benefits of having a robust and powerful mental health well-being strategy in place.
One that sticks in my mind goes as far back as 2007, when BT implemented such a strategy which led to 30% reduction in mental health-related sickness absence and a return to work rate of 75% for people absent for more than six months with mental health.
So why is the country facing what can easily be called an epidemic and what can be done to turn the tide?
Over the past near decade working with businesses of all sizes, I have found the four most important strategies to creating a successful programme are:
1. Building wellbeing into your company structure
- Having leadership on board is paramount to the success of the programme
- However, as a part of this process, when it comes to mental health it really helps to get rid of top down approach and promote dialogue where all are included
- Polices relating to mental health and well-being should be integrated into all polices such as health and safety, sickness, absences and return to work.
2. Create the right environment
- Create a safe environment to have discussions around what some of the challenges are that your individual employees face and what strategies they may already be using. Make wellbeing a part of the agenda during team meetings
- Mentoring and buddy scheme, it is not always easy for employees to open up to managers. Appoint a trusted and experienced person for your employees to take their private concerns to around mental health and stress issues at work
3. Dismantling stigma
- Every one of us has mental health just as we do physical health. The discussion needs to be had around how we support the diversity of our employee’s needs. Mental health is a wide spectrum and cannot be treated with one solution, once you find out the needs of your team this will enable you to build in the right strategies.
- Bring a speaker in who has dealt with mental health to discuss the strategies they use with your employees. Do not allow the elephant in the room to roam!
4. Providing well-being services for the mind and body
- A clear distinction is often made between ‘mind’ and ‘body’. In fact, we talk about mental health as if it’s disconnected from our bodies – it’s not.
- It’s easier to see how mental health can affect physical health, but the opposite is also true. Rates of depression double in people living with diabetes, high blood pressure and hearts problems, for example, 30% of those with a long term physical health condition also have a mental health problem
- Implementing monthly and weekly services such as on-site chair massage, yoga and mindfulness will not only have huge effects on the health of your employees, while creating an environment where your employees feel cared for and valued
Ultimately, mental health problems do not go away by themselves. We need to inspire people to feel better and implement structures that support an ethos of open communication. As long as employees are given the freedom to have their say and the business is willing to act on it, then the desired culture – and the wider business – can prosper.