On the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, Sara Moseley reflects on the challenges of those experiencing mental health problem in the workplace, and the role of employers.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, which has been running globally since 1992. Whilst the profile of mental health has probably never been higher in the UK, today continues to provide an opportunity to highlight the challenges of those experiencing mental health problems. This year the focus is on wellbeing in the workplace.
Despite work by the Time to Change Wales campaign resulting in a 5% improvement in public attitudes in Wales towards people with mental health conditions, we continue to be told that it is in the workplace they are most likely to encounter stigma. With mental health being a cross Government commitment through Prosperity for All we have the opportunity to properly join up how mental health issues are recognised and tackled across portfolios. This was evident recently when the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure highlighted the importance of promoting good mental health as a key part of any future economic strategy for Wales.
The business case for organisations looking after their staff’s mental health is clear. The Centre for Mental Health estimated that the business costs of mental health in the UK is £34.9 billion per year. This is not only made up of sickness absence and replacing staff who leave their jobs due to mental ill health, but also the cost of reduced productivity. In fact reduced productivity is estimated as being the biggest cost to business, which is an important consideration as it suggests that many people in work are unable to focus on their role, experiencing poor mental health but feel unable to speak about it or seek help and get better.
As most of us spend a considerable part of our lives in work we need to ensure that this is an environment that nurtures and empowers people to talk about the problems they are facing and helps them to move forward, so they can be as healthy and productive as possible. This is not about removing any stressful or pressured situation, but about helping people to recognise the signs and symptoms of becoming unwell so as to manage their own mental health and those of their staff. It has been interesting that in recent focus groups with men run by the Time to Change Wales campaign the responses relating to employment demonstrated a fear of recognising mental health issues. There were strong concerns about opportunities being inhibited through a disclosure, which included potentially losing a current job or being rejected for future work through disclosure. Lots of people tell us that they fear that talking would lead to others losing confidence in their ability to do their job. This self-stigma and fear is particularly prevalent in men and is closely tied to notions of masculinity. Ultimately they fear losing their jobs and even losing the ability to protect and care for their families. Factor in an increasingly competitive employment market and you start to build a picture of people being trapped in employment and unable to acknowledge the way they are feeling, or get the support they need. Whilst there are a whole range of issues here, it becomes stark that as a nation we need to make the journey from work being part of the problem to being part of the solution in order for us all to achieve better mental health outcomes.
At Mind Cymru we have undertaken a number of initiatives to tackle this issue and to help support employers to support their staff. Investment from the Welsh Government has enabled us to produce a range of bilingual resources and to engage with Welsh organisations of all sizes to promote workplace wellbeing initiatives. Overall the workplace wellbeing project has engaged with over 440 organisations and supplied 205 wellbeing packs, demonstrating a clear demand for this work. Of the organisations in Wales that responded to our survey 54% said they had no internal policies on mental health, only 10% of policies were available in Welsh and one in three respondents said that their organisations would like more information on workplace wellbeing. So organisations are aware there is an issue. Many want to act but don’t have the tools to tackle mental health issues through training or guidance in order to begin the conversation with staff. This is an area where Time to Change Wales has made significant strides and where we believe much more can and should be done.
This is Wales’ only anti-stigma campaign, led by Gofal, Hafal and Mind Cymru and funded by Comic Relief and Welsh Government. A significant element is linked to encouraging organisations to sign the Time to Change pledge and develop an action plan to tackle stigma in the workplace. We hope to have 100 organisations signed up by the end of the year. Efforts to tackle stigma in the workplace and all parts of Welsh society will take time, but most importantly it will take consistent, sustainable messages backed up by guidance and resources. With Time to Change Wales the progress has been good, but we feel we have only scratched the surface with the resources available to us. The campaign is led by people with experience of mental health problems and we want to recruit and train more so we can continue to reach employers and encourage them to take action. We would want to see a situation where all employers in Wales are signing the Time to Change pledge as a public commitment to tackling stigma through a proactive action plan.
The next step would be the opportunity to be part of Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, designed to provide a benchmark for best practice in promoting positive mental health. We work alongside organisations providing them with advice, guidance and engaging staff on what would help them. It would be powerful if we could encourage all organisations in Wales to take the pledge and sign up to the Index. This would make a clear statement that in Wales we value people’s skills but also want to ensure work is a positive and fulfilling experience for them.
Ultimately we need to remember that at the heart of this issue are individual people, each experiencing mental health conditions in their own way and needing to be approached with understanding and care. There is no one size fits all way of doing things. Of course policies and procedures are needed in order to ensure consistency and provide a guide for what to do, but there is also the need for emotionally intelligent leadership. It takes skill and understanding to create a work environment where all employees are comfortable having open and honest conversations with their managers (and potentially colleagues) about how work is impacting upon them. We have to be supporting leaders within organisations to achieve this for the benefit of the Welsh economy and the overall health of the nation.
At Mind Cymru we are looking forward to seeing how the vision set out by the Cabinet Secretary is made a reality in the coming months and continuing to play our part with all organisations working in Wales.
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