Mental Health: Time To Talk Taboo

A topic that has become quite prevalent in my life over the past year, mental health. For something as common as mental illness, why is there such taboo and stigma surrounding it? Mental health issues are common and for the most part, treatable. Yet they aren’t talked about as openly as physical conditions?

In-fact, as I sit here writing this blog and planning the up-coming podcast, I think to myself, should I be writing this? What will people think? Will people understand? What will my employer think?

I myself have never been good at opening up, telling people what I’m going through, what I’m thinking and why it has affected me. So, I’m quite nervous writing this blog, but as I look across my network I don’t see this being addressed so I thought I would. I’m bored of people telling me to ‘stop being so emotional’, ‘stop being petty’, ‘you’ll get over it’ and ‘you’ll be fine’. I am also fed up of people saying that having a mental health issue is nothing more than a trend now. It’s time we see that now more than ever we have access to technologies that help us address and diagnose these problems, we have frameworks in place to help us support those in the workplace, our friends and our families. What’s more, we can all hold our hands up to having to overcome something, suffering with something, not having someone to lean on. We should continue to recognise that although it’s not visible so sometimes almost too easy to ignore, it’s possible that your friend, your colleague, the guy on the train or the celebrity you look up to might be going through something.

A study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation showed that one in four adults will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime and one in ten children. Worldwide, 450 million people have a mental health problem.

These statistics are shocking, rates of self-harm in the UK are the highest in Europe at 400 per 100,000 people. Those with mental health problems say that the stigma attached to ill mental health and the discrimination they experience make it hard to recover and actually make their illness worse, with 9 out of 10 people citing this. A statistic that I found shocking was that almost 30% of 2,000 people studied across Britain would find it difficult to admit publicly to having a mental illness, compared with 20% who said they would have difficulty coming out as homosexual. A topic that also has an unacceptable amount of stigma surrounding it yet talking about emotional wellbeing and mental health is deemed more difficult.

One area I want to address, as a woman in full time employment, is mental health stigma in the workplace. As a nation, I don’t think we do enough (collectively) to combat mental health stigma and do little to aid those suffering in the workplace.

Although the importance and focus placed on mental health at work has gained recognition in the UK over the past few years, I think that this recognition is a direct result of sickness/absences related to stress and mental health increasing. Although it is good that it has been pushed up the agenda, I can’t help but ask why it has taken so long?

A recent CIPD study highlighted the impact that mental health can have in organisations:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get in conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it hard to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are less patient with customers or clients
  • In 2016, 13% of companies reported that mental health/stress was a primary cause of absence… this has now risen to 22%.
  • Women more likely to suffer than men, but mental health problems in men are on the rise.

This study also found, for the first time, that stress is the major cause of long-term absence.

A separate study found that 4 in 10 employers wouldn’t employ someone with a mental health issue. That is very disheartening, given that unemployment is also contributor to mental health issues.

Employers, in my opinion, should be doing everything they can to address employee wellbeing and mental health within the workplace.

Educate yourselves: Learn more about what mental health conditions are out there, understand what signs to look out for, read the statistics and have a look at people’s personal stories. In order to support people, you need to understand the topic at hand. It might be a good start to have managers trained so that they can be more adept at recognising possible symptoms.

Understand the legislation around mental health: This allows companies to access guidance on how to respond to situations and act in accordance to their role to prevent unfair treatment and discrimination.

Lead from the top: Mental health must be a topic at board level and must champion positive behaviours and attitudes.

Get the right support structures in place: ensure that the organisation has support structures in place for all staff.

Review and React: Have a ‘Mental Health at Work’/’Stress at Work’ Policy ticks a box for you, but it doesn’t mean you are actually doing anything. Regularly review your policy and look to your workforce for survey responses to give you real visibility of the state of employee’s mental health in the workplace. React to any feedback you receive and show your employers you care.

A CIPD Study shows that health and well-being activity has more positive outcomes where line managers are bought in to the importance of well-being, however less than half of those surveyed report that they have a supportive line manager. 90% of millennials say they are more likely to stay with their employers if they believe they identify with their needs.

Creating a culture of openness about mental health takes time and effort, but those employers who are willing to make that investment will reap the benefits have having a healthier, more engaged and more productive workforce with reduced sickness absence and staff turnover costs.

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