Jonathan Savage: Valuing mental health the same as physical health

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Looking after your mental health is of central importance to those in (and out of) work across the country. A survey published by the Depression Alliance this month showed that one in three people in the UK found it hard to cope at work because of depression, stress and burn out. However, the way we talk about mental health and wellbeing at work doesn’t always match the scale of the issue, and is very different to how we talk about physical health. ‘Parity of esteem’, which means valuing mental health in the same way that we value physical health, is high on the Government’s mental health agenda. So what does this mean in the work place and what can we do to ensure that this happens?

For employers, a compelling case for supporting mental health and wellbeing has been made – with the estimated cost to employers of mental health problems among their staff being around £26 billion each year. Applying the principle of ‘parity of esteem’ means that it must be just as important for employers to support their employees in their mental wellbeing as it is in their physical health. This can be in terms of creating an environment that is conducive to mental wellbeing (for example, enough light, pictures and plants), supporting employees in a healthy work-life balance (for example the use of flexible working hours) and encouraging a culture of openness around time constraints and workload. Many companies have an employee assistance programme to help with problems related to work, or life outside of work; employers may also wish to think about giving staff time to attend counselling and support services during working hours just as they would for other medical appointments.

For colleagues, an essential issue in the workplace is the ability to talk about mental health; the more we talk about it the more we can help to break down the stigma of mental ill-health. One great initiative to break the stigma around mental health at work is the Time to Talk Coffee Morning. Running for the first time in February this year, it was an opportunity to start conversations about mental health in the work place, understand more about mental health and the help that is available. Talking is essential to normalising mental ill-health and wellbeing, and building understanding.

Finally as individuals, valuing your mental health in the same way that you value your physical health is a big step towards parity of esteem. One way to start doing this at work might be to think about trying to managing a good work-life balance – taking up a  hobby, learning something new, spending time outside and socialising with friends are all beneficial for our mental health. Increasingly we all have demanding working hours and this directly impacts on our lives outside of work. Measures to combat this might be speaking up when work expectations and demands are too much, and trying to ensure that a line is drawn between work and our lives outside of work.

‘Parity of esteem’ in the workplace means treating mental health with the same importance as physical health. Mental health is key to enabling people to achieve the most that they are able to at work and it is everybody’s business to support this.

Jonathan Savage is a Policy Officer at the Mental Health Foundation

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Alot of people today think mental health is an excuse to be off work and they also think it means you are a little crazy (ignorance I think I would say about some who think this). If people took the time to learn about mental health and not judge it this world would be a better place. Mental Health is a form of depression which can be triggered by anything tragic (in my circumstance this is the case) happening in your life. Yes you do get paranoid with this illness as you lose your self confidence, but I have found I have always put my all into my work as that is the only place I feel confident, and that is to do an excellent job. Everything else around me seems to fall apart. I do think that your workplace should support anyone with a mental health issue and listen and not judge as we may have a mental health issue, but we are probably more aware of stuff than those without a mental health issue. Mental health does not mean we are stupid or crazy, it just means (in my case) something sad has happened in my life which was tragic and this is where I needed support from my doctor, but a message to you all MH doesn’t mean we are mad just sad thats all.

  2. Hello Jonathan. A good article with a central message that is worth repeating over and over again. ‘Parity of esteem’ sums up the situation perfectly and highlights the current lack of balance in the way we view mental health.

    Mental health is an area Acas has become increasingly interested in. In a recent article we suggest that ‘disclosure’ may be the biggest problem facing mental health at work. You rightly talk about the importance of talking about mental health but how confident do employees feel about discussing personal problems with their line managers? In terms of parity, many people do not like talking to their manager about their physical health – many won’t even talk to their partner, friends or GP.

    We can start the general conversation about mental health – and this is really important – but when it comes down to a specific problem it can be very hard to broach the subject. Of course, disclosure is a matter of choice and we have to remember that not everyone wants to talk. But we all deserve to have a supporting environment should we decide the time is right for that conversation.

    A difficult and complex debate.

    If you are interested in the Acas article you can find it here: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2985

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