Why mental health matters

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In the build up to January’s Absence & Attendance Management event, Helen Lockett, Director of Programmes, Centre for Mental Health, offers further insights into the impact of mental ill health in the workplace.

People who develop mental health conditions are twice as likely to lose their jobs than people with other health conditions or disabilities (Burchardt, 2003), yet only about 15% of mental distress in the working population is directly caused by work.

Recognising that mental distress is common and encouraging staff to seek help when they become unwell are vital. Responding to a colleague who is showing the signs of distress sensitively and confidently can make all the difference for them and for their work. Yet the majority of managers do not feel equipped to respond appropriately and would welcome training to help them to do better (Employers’ Forum on Disability, 2008).

There is thus a clear need for line managers in workplaces across the UK to get the knowledge, skills and confidence to respond to mental distress wisely and positively. Human resources staff have a key role in ensuring that all line managers in their workplaces have the basic skills and that the organisation as a whole will be able to support individuals in making their recovery and where possible signpost them to sources of specialist support.

This article looks in more detail at the Centre’s contribution to making that possible.

Impact on Depression

Impact on Depression is a set of training programmes for workplaces about mental health. It offers line managers and other staff up to three hours’ training to give them the knowledge and skills they need to manage mental health in their workplace. Groups meet at a location of their choice with an experienced facilitator to understand more about common mental health problems and find out how they can respond if they have a colleague about whom they are concerned or who comes to them for help.

Impact on Depression is based on a successful initiative developed by Australia’s beyondblue: the National Depression Initiative www.beyondblue.org.au. We found beyondblue’s National Workplace Programme (NWP) as part of an international search for an effective approach to giving line managers and supervisors the tools to respond positively to mental distress that could be delivered at the scale required to meet the need that exists across the UK without affecting the quality of the training provided.

The key aspects of the beyondblue NWP which we felt were particularly important for this country were its emphasis on recognising very early signs in the workplace, how to approach a colleague or someone you manage, ensuring participants understand the range of professional supports and treatments available and can signpost people to help. Every aspect is based on the best available evidence, and it is delivered by accredited mental health professionals with clinical, workplace and training experience.

Centre for Mental Health now has a network of facilitators across the UK who can bring Impact on Depression to any workplace. The training can be delivered in large, medium or small businesses, in the public, private or voluntary sectors.

Evidence of effectiveness

As a research charity, the Centre has evaluated the impact of beyondblue’s National Workplace Programme and of Impact on Depression. The evidence available for each is very promising. In both Australia and the UK, participants complete pre- and post-training questionnaires testing their knowledge about depression, their attitudes towards people with depression and their willingness and confidence to deal positively with them at work.

Before bringing Impact on Depression to the UK, the Centre tested the programme with managers from a number of major employers including the submarines business of Rolls-Royce, Tate & Lyle Sugars and the Royal Mail Group.

All managers in the pilot felt significantly more confident about identifying and supporting employees with depression and anxiety. Prior to the training only 43% of managers correctly estimated the prevalence of depression whereas after the training this increased significantly to 95% (see figure). Managers also held more positive attitudes and were more willing to engage with a person whom they knew had depression (Lockett and Grove, 2010).

About the Author:

Helen Lockett is the Director of Programmes and Performance at Centre for Mental Health. Helen has carried out research, evaluation and service development in the fields of employment and mental health and disabilities for over 15 years, after graduating in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University. Helen has worked at the Centre since 2006.

Helen is about to complete a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Bradford School of Management through their distance learning programme. Helen regularly speaks at local, national and international events on the evidence base across the employment and mental health continuum as well as the policy and practice implications.

Helen managed the UK pilot of the Australian beyondblueworkplace programme, which we are making available as theImpact on Depression sessions.



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  1. Helen makes some good points in this article. Employers need to catch these situations up-stream and training is certainly an excellent way of raising understanding and awareness. However when a senior director/employee suffers from a mental health issue less people seem inclined to voice their concerns. Managers need to be aware that these issues can have an impact on all their colleagues.

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