Mental health has typically been viewed as a taboo subject, with many people uncomfortable discussing or addressing it. But this has begun to enter the mainstream media, with influential public figures recently starting to open up about their own personal struggles. These public admissions of mental health problems have reignited the debate over the NHS’s ability to provide people with the help they need. In July, a survey of NHS trusts illustrated the endemic nature of this problem. Seven in ten mental health leaders expect demand for mental health services to rise this year, but fewer than one in three are confident they have the staff to deliver these services.

Making mental health mainstream could convince more people to seek help if they are struggling, but there cannot be positive change if there aren’t enough forms of support available to meet increasing demand.

With the NHS under persistent strain, other alternatives for mental health support must be considered. One of these – the workplace – can be a root cause as well as a source of help. A recent BUPA survey revealed a 53% increase in the number of workplace claims for mental health treatment over the past 10 years, with stress and anxiety cited as the main drivers. Our own research also revealed a third (33%) of employees believe their employer approaches mental health issues in a negative way, describing their organisation’s approach as secretive, awkward or dismissive.

With workers spending a large chunk of their time at work, there is the potential for employers to make a real positive difference to mental health provision.  But big changes are clearly needed for this to become a reality. We ask our managers and supervisors to deliver, deliver, deliver but they worry an employee with poor mental health will not, consistently. Is that view right? Can it be changed?

As an employer or HR professional, the first step is to assess employees’ views on mental health in your organisation. An anonymous survey, for example, will help measure whether your staff feel it is being dealt with positively or poorly. This should then lay the foundations to tackle the problem head on.

You may want to consider setting up an action group of employees interested in changing practices around mental health, or developing an internal campaign to promote and reinforce the importance of mental health. If you don’t already have one, be sure to develop a mental health policy, perhaps in consultation with employees who have suffered from mental health issues in the past. This must be communicated to staff properly to ensure they feel comfortable coming forward with any issues.

Reviewing existing resources is a cost- and time-effective way of providing practical support. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) offer confidential counselling and instant access to advice and support for mental health concerns, and are provided for free alongside most group income protection policies. These policies may also offer day 1 support for managers and supervisors where complex absence, such as stress or depression, is reported. Employers have a duty to provide proper support and guidance to ensure their people’s mental wellbeing needs are being met.

Paul Avis first joined Canada Life Group Insurance as a Sales and Marketing Director in 2009. He became Marketing Director in January 2013 in order to focus on proposition and market development initiatives. In an intermediated B2B marketing environment, the organisation is seen as a technical, thought leader in the complex arenas of employee health management and protection. Paul joined Canada Life from HR services organisation Ceridian, where he carried out the role of corporate development manager.