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