It’s looking like mental health will be a major campaign topic for this year’s UK general election on May 7. Writing on Time to Talk Day, a day where colleagues are urged to approach each other to chat for five minutes about mental illness, I’d like to consider some of the existing and future initiatives around mental health.

Mental health awareness

Ed Miliband has pledged to end the neglect of mental health services if Labour takes power. He has also promised that there will be an increase in the proportion of mental health budget spent on children – services that he says have been ‘stripped back in recent years’.

The current coalition government has also announced a £12 million investment in helping people with mental health conditions return to work. According to GOV.UK figures, 46 percent of Employment and Support Allowance claimants have mental health conditions while mental ill-health is estimated to cost taxpayers and businesses £105 billion a year in health and police services, welfare benefits and sickness absence. The funding will be trialled in four pilot areas: Blackpool, Greater Manchester, North East Combined Authority and West London Alliance.

Time to Talk

Alongside Time to Talk day, Mental Health Awareness Week (May 11-17) will focus on Mindfulness this year. As some have argued, it’s important that as employers pursue ever-greater workforce wellness, they don’t see mental health issues as weakness, or attribute their cause to something as simple as diet, exercise or smoking. HR managers must ensure that the message of Time to Talk Day – that mental health is not a sign of weakness, badness or one’s ‘sins’ – is upheld throughout an organisation, and that a culture of compassion and openness is promoted so that those in difficulty can approach their colleagues without fear of being branded as ‘weak’.

Altering the language used to describe mental health will be a positive development in the workplace. Using the expression “mental health problem” should be discouraged because the word “problem” suggests that mental ill-health is abnormal, when it is in fact quite commonplace. Of course, the terms used are down to each individual HR department.

I hope that you took five to chat with a colleague about mental health on Time to Talk Day. I also hope that the conversation was open, positive and without the traditional prejudices associated with the term “mental health”.