October 9, 2017

Is your organisation mental-health friendly?

Of the 137 million sick days taken by UK workers last year, 15.8 million of them were for a stated mental health issue. That’s according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey. Those mental health issues ranged from stress, anxiety and depression through to manic depression and schizophrenia.

No wonder then that the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10) is mental health in the workplace. “Mental health is often neglected as a key aspect of employees’ overall health, yet the World Health Organization points out that depression heads the list of causes of illness and disability worldwide,” says Rosalynn Carter, honorary chair of World Mental Health Day and former US first lady, in the opening letter of the World Federation for Mental Health’s (WFMH) report marking the event. “Those who experience depression or other disorders may be unable to work or may be less than fully productive. Our vision, therefore, is to start the discussion so that we can define best practice in promoting mental health in the workplace and create a broad coalition to promote best practice, decrease negative attitudes and discrimination and empower individuals to promote mental health and dignity for all.”

According to the report, one in five workers report experiencing some kind of mental health condition. One tenth (10%) of the employed population have taken time off work due to depression and on average, 36 workdays are lost per depression episode.

The good news is that workers are just as entitled to take sick leave on account of a mental health issue as they are a physical issue, such as flu or a bad back. The bad news, however, is that many people feel there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health issues, so much so that not only do they worry about taking time off due to mental ill health, but they also worry about telling colleagues and management that they have mental health issues in the first place. They fear that they will be discriminated against by their current and future employers. That’s one of the reasons why WFMH thinks it is so important to raise the issue of mental health in the workplace.

A lot of managers think so too – 43% would like their organisation to have better policies on the matter. One of the report’s chapters, titled ‘We need to end the taboo of mental illness in the workplace’, demonstrates some of the hurdles that people face. It references a study of 500 UK employers with the following findings:

– 44% of participants thought employees ‘suffering from stress are able to work effectively at all time points’
– 42% thought workplace policies for mental health/stress were designed to avoid litigation

Yet, the report references further research that shows that 94% of cognitive symptoms of depress, such as problems with concentration levels, problems with making decisions and recalling information, are present up to 94% of the time during episodes of depression (Conradi JH et al. Psychological Medicine. 2011;41:1165-1174,).

The report includes recommendations on what employers should do to minimise the chances of workers experiencing mental health issues and what to do when problems arise. It says the mental health-friendly workplace looks like this:
• Welcomes all qualified job applicants; diversity is valued.
• Includes health care that treats mental illnesses with the same urgency as physical illnesses.
• Has programs and practices that promote and support employee health-wellness and/or work-life balance.
• Provides training for managers and front-line supervisors in mental health workplace issues, including identification of performance problems that may indicate worker distress and possible need for referral and evaluation.
• Safeguards confidentiality of employee health information.
• Provides an Employee Assistance Program or other appropriate referral resources to assist managers and employees.
• Supports employees who seek treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave, including planning for return to work.
• Ensures “exit with dignity” as a corporate priority, should it become essential for an employee to leave employment.
• Provides all-employee communication regarding equal opportunity employment, the reasonable accommodations policy of the Americans with Disabilities Act, health and wellness programs, and similar topics that promote an accepting, anti-stigmatizing, anti- discriminating climate in the workplace.

Find out more about how to deal with conversations about mental ill health in the workplace or call 0330 660 0220 for more information on our CIPD HR or L&D qualifications.