Mental health problems affect one in four of us, in many areas of our lives including in the workplace. Right now, one in six workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress (ONS, 2009) at a cost of £26 billion to the UK economy (Mind.org.uk).
Despite this high figure, people with mental health problems still experience stigma and discrimination, and this prevents many employees from speaking out and seeking the support they need. We know that discrimination in the workplace is a very real issue but many people don’t feel able to be open about their mental health problems in the first place, fearing the response they might receive from their colleagues.
In a survey of Time to Change supporters, 67% said that the fear of stigma had actually stopped them from telling an employer or prospective employer about a mental health problem. Furthermore, 50% said that the anticipated stigma had prevented them from applying for a job.
In the last 18 months we’ve seen many high profile people speak out about their mental health problems and just recently we heard the news that Jonathan Trott, England cricket batsman left the Ashes tour of Australia because of a long-standing stress-related condition. We know that when people in the public eye speak out it helps others to talk more openly about their experiences too. Yet, while more and more people, from all walks of life are speaking out about experiences like stress and depression, and more employers are recognising the importance of tackling mental health at work, the subject still seems to be the elephant in room for many offices across England.
There are many barriers to reducing stigma and discrimination – the main one is getting employers to realise the cost effectiveness of having a workforce that feel able to talk about their mental health problem and, in turn, receive the support that they might need. The huge cost of mental health problems to employers is now becoming more widely recognised with sick leave, presenteeism and staff turnover due to mental illness costing British business nearly £26 billion a year.
We’re working together with employers to create a working environment where people with mental health problems are supported and feel able to be open about it. Many more organisations are now starting to see mental health, wellbeing and tackling discrimination as an important part of their organisational culture. We’re hearing more positive stories from staff in some organisations who are now feeling more comfortable to have conversations and managers who are also more confident in dealing with this disclosure. In some companies we’re seeing senior leaders talk about their own mental health experience, which sets the tone for a more open culture throughout the organisation.
There are a number of ways that organisations can get involved including signing a Time to Change organisational pledge. This isn’t an accreditation by Time to Change but is a display of the organisation’s commitment to tackling mental health discrimination. We ask all organisations signing the pledge to develop an action plan of practical work to ensure there is real and meaningful activity happening as part of the pledge.
Some examples of companies who’ve run successful mental health activity include E.on, who developed communal ‘Head Shed’ areas for individuals to meet socially, learn, and discuss all mental health. The Department of Health has an internal campaign which offers a range of activities to promote mental health and wellbeing to staff including offering taster Mindfulness meditation sessions. And Kent Police have developed a whole suite of workshops for staff on mental health and wellbeing.
Organisations can also sign up to take part in our Time to Talk day, which will take place on 6 February 2014 as part of Time to Change’s next national advertising campaign. We’re aiming to have a million conversations about mental health and it’s the ideal time to kick start your activity or highlight the mental health support you already offer to employees. Please visit www.time-to-change.org.uk to find out how you can get involved.
Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change