Written by: Cally Worden
Around a quarter of us will suffer from mental health problems at some point during our lives. Despite extensive campaigns and efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues, there remains a great reluctance by sufferers to share their difficulties. The complex and very personal nature of mental health problems and an ever-present fear of being judged, prevent many from opening up. In addition to the great personal cost, it is estimated that UK businesses lose ¬£30 billion a year from absences related to mental health issues.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is typically defined as our ability to cope mentally and emotionally with the stresses of everyday life. It is perfectly possible to enjoy a positive state of mental health while experiencing stress and anxiety. It becomes a problem when an individual feels overwhelmed by the normal stress of life and feels unable to manage it. Mental health problems include anything from feeling simply ‘low’, through to anxiety and deep depression with more severe illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
How Can it Impact the Workplace?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has conducted a study that clearly highlights the impact that mental health issues can have on the workplace. Among its findings were the following statistics concerning those suffering mental health challenges:
- 80% find it difficult to maintain concentration
- 50% have the potential for being less patient with customers or clients
- 62% take longer than average to complete tasks
- 37% are more likely than their peers to get into conflict with colleagues
- 57% have difficulty in multitasking
The study also found that the major cause of long-term absence among both manual and non-manual workers is stress.
Some extreme forms of mental health are considered disabilities under the Equality Act 2010, when they have a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to function normally on a daily basis. The conditions that fall under this description are protected from discrimination under the Act.
Employers can help by raising awareness of the signs of mental health across the workplace, creating an environment where staff feel able to be open and honest if they are experiencing problems.
Mindful Employer Initiative
The staggering economic cost of mental health problems has prompted the employment advisory service ACAS, to team up with the NHS on its Mindful Employer Initiative. The result is a training package and detailed advisory booklet, this is designed to assist employers in understanding the challenges of mental health issues and how best to accommodate and manage them in the workplace. It focuses on three key issues:
1. The stigma around mental health – a lack of understanding of any issue often creates fear, from fear comes stigma. Mental health issues do not conform to recognised stereotypes, the random nature of sufferers and the way in which mental health problems are experienced makes people very wary. Employers can help by discouraging judgemental responses to mental health issues and rejecting the stigma that surrounds them
¬†2. The practical ways employers can help – many of the things influencing an individual’s mental health are beyond the control of employers. Family relationships, childhood experiences and so on are by their very nature intensely personal. But issues arising from these factors can be eased. Manageable workload, a pleasing physical environment and easy working relationships can all make a huge difference to sufferers
3. The importance of listening – many people suffering from mental health issues want to help themselves, they are able to do so provided they can work in an environment that is supportive. Often the simple act of listening can alleviate symptoms, to the extent that an individual feels better able to employ their own coping strategies.