The global focus on mental health has started a cultural shift in how we understand and support it. For many, it has prompted a realisation that there are – or will be - more of us who have suffered in some way and to differing degrees than haven’t.
For those looking for support, there is a realisation that sufficient help just isn’t there.
A recent Royal College of Psychiatrists surveyof the experience of 500 diagnosed mental health patients found a quarter waited more than three months to see an NHS mental health specialist. Six per cent had waited at least a year.
As the debate continues to rage and we learn more about the effects of poor mental health, attention is turning to the workplace.
Mental health in the workplace
It is here that the average worker in the UK will spend over82,000 hours over their lifetime.
It is a place where pre-existing conditions can be aggravated, where stress is common and where the effects of both can be made worse.
It is also here where a lot of parents may be worrying about their children’s wellbeing. And where a lot of young people enter the wider world, sometimes bringing with them struggles from childhood that may not have been addressed.
The charity Young Minds issued a reportlast year showing three-quarters of young people referred to NHS mental health services waited so long to be seen that their condition had deteriorated further by the time they got to a doctor.
There seems little doubt that problems stored up at a young age may well be present – or have become worse - by the time young people enter the jobs market.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, however, “Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees.”
Support expected at work
The pressure on employers to provide this help will only grow as knowledge increases and if encouragement to seek help leads to a dead end at work. And it will only intensify as a smaller labour market is forecast over the next ten years - and with the potential impact of Brexit.
This comes at a time when younger potential employees are already expecting more when it comes to mental health support. A recent surveyfound that “79% of employers said employees expect better awareness of mental health issues.”
Of course, any of us can suffer with mental health issues whether work-related or not. What is essential is that employers have appropriate understanding and provision for support or allow staff time off to seek help on their own terms.
We know that more employees are approaching their managers about their own mental health, but we also know that most companies do not offer their managers appropriate training.
Training for managers
A recent Institute of Directors pollof 700 managers found 40% had been approached by staff with a mental health concern, up from just over a quarter in 2017. It found, however, that only 17% of firms offered mental health training for managers.
The 2017 Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employersmade the case for action to alleviate the human cost of mental health issues – as well as the resulting impact on society, the economy and Government. It stated that: “Employers are losing billions of pounds because employers are less productive, less effective, or off sick.”
The role of technology
We are clearly a long way off the majority of employees feeling supported. So, what’s the answer? More training? More awareness at work? More flexibility? Probably all of these, but also perhaps technology. Specifically, online support.
Some forward-looking companies are increasingly taking a proactive approach, offering workers online mental health and wellbeing support as an ‘employee perk’ where their internal expertise may be limited.
Such support answers calls for privacy and control when it comes to mental health at work. It is also easily scalable, so can provide help at different times to any number of people in need.
Offering employees free access to self-help articles and online goal setting or mood tracking tools can be invaluable. Having online counsellors on hand for therapy sessions during and outside office hours gives employees the freedom to get help how, where and when they want to.
So, while mental health in the workplace may just now be getting the media attention it deserves, it has a real opportunity to be a true trailblazer in using technology to deliver support. If we can create a happier and more productive workforce, we all stand to benefit.
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