Become part of the movement to end the stigma of mental health issues says David Morel
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the global economy loses an estimated US$1 trillion per year all because of mental health suffering. Mental health is a taboo subject that many organisations still fail to recognise in their policies, let alone make provision for.
The scale of mental health disorders in the workplace is often underestimated, yet common problems such as anxiety, depression and stress affect one in four people in the UK alone. Sadly, employees can still feel unable to ask for help or time off because in the majority of cases, mental health conditions are not visible to their colleagues.
Workplaces can play a significant role in supporting employees who suffer from mental ill-health. The first step is to implement processes to ensure that employees are acknowledged. Not only will this aid employee retention and satisfaction; it makes financial sense for the wider business.
According to a recent study by WHO, every US$1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$4 in better health and ability to work. If you are working with key business leaders of an SME, this is a sound argument to support the cause for change.
In addition to the financial investment required, a key challenge is ensuring that your workplace is equipped to support mental health sufferers and to create an environment within which people feel comfortable asking for help.
These are some of the ways you can use your position as an assistant to affect change within your organisation:
Develop a mental health policy – and make sure it is implemented
Working with the HR department to draft a business-wide policy is the first step. You can identify strategies that will be effective in recognising and preventing mental health suffering within your workforce; these will also help hiring managers to recruit in an inclusive, non-discriminatory way.
However, it is not enough just to have the policies. They must be implemented by everyone with hiring responsibility. Use your influence to ensure that managers have buy-in from leadership and encourage the policies to be regularly reviewed so that they remain effective.
Consult an expert and appoint a mental health ambassador
Having an appointed individual who can deal with any mental health-related query is useful. If you don’t have a mental health professional employed by your firm, approach a specialist to help refine the policy and plan the implementation. On an ongoing basis appoint a mental health ambassador internally – they will make the difference between a perceived ‘nice gesture’ and a policy that is being taken seriously by the business.
As the point of contact, the ambassador can support management by implementing policies, responding to employee queries and, from time to time, planning company-wide initiatives to promote mental health awareness.
Provide training and promote mental health awareness
Work with senior management and HR to initiate a training programme for all employees. This will help to make everyone aware of the various mental health issues that might arise in the workplace and help to create an open culture in which people feel comfortable talking about mental health concerns before it impacts their work. Training the management team will also help offer the correct level of care to staff and enable them to get the best out of their team.
Introduce a dedicated counselling service
Larger workplaces could benefit from an in-house counselling service, which can provide a confidential and short-term benefit to employees. This could provide the desired intervention and mitigate the mental health issue before the individual needs to take time off work. This could be offered through an Employee Assistance Programme and only costs around £14 per employee annually in the UK, according to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy[i]. If an in-house solution is too big a step, subsidised external counselling might be a viable option for SMEs.
Organisations that take active steps to creating a mentally healthy workplace will reap rewards in terms of absenteeism figures, productivity levels and an enhanced employer brand. However, attitudes towards mental health are slow to shift, so be part of the movement to put an end to mental health stigma.