One in four people experience a mental health problem, yet as a society and perhaps particularly in the workplace we are often afraid of discussing the topic. Employers should be encouraged to talk about mental health in the same way as we do physical health and develop a workplace culture of openness.
In January 2017 the Prime Minster tasked Paul Farmer (Mind Chief Executive) and Dennis Stevenson (former HBOS chair) with undertaking an independent review into how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment. This was to include helping those with mental health problems or poor well-being to remain in and thrive through work. The report, "Thriving at Work", was published in late October 2017.
In the report a four-pronged vision was set out for the next decade. It also encouraged the government to implement the report's recommendations, measure the results and make a long-term commitment to improving mental health at work.
First, Farmer and Stevenson hope that employees in all sectors will have “good work”, which contributes positively to their mental health, our society and our economy. Secondly they hope that every one of us will have the knowledge, tools and confidence to understand and look after our own mental health and the mental health of those around us.
As for employers, Farmer and Stevenson want all organisations, whatever their size, to be equipped with the awareness and tools not only to address but to prevent mental ill health caused or worsened by work. This would include being equipped to support individuals with a mental health condition to thrive, from recruitment and throughout the organisation, and being aware of how to get access to timely help to reduce sickness absence caused by mental ill health.
Finally the authors hope to see a dramatic reduction in the proportion of people with a long-term mental health condition who leave employment each year so ensuring that everyone who can benefits from the positive impacts of good work.
There are grounds for optimism that the next steps in tackling mental ill health in the workplace are starting to be achieved. Mental Health First Aid was referred to as an example of a good and successful innovation emerging amongst employers who are at the forefront of best practice in this area. First aiders have of course been around in one shape or form since the early 1800s. Mental Health First Aid is a new concept. The role of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace is to be a point of contact for anyone who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress; they are not intended to be counsellors or psychiatrists. Mental Health First Aiders are trained, amongst other things, to start a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress and to listen to the person non-judgementally.
If you would like to discuss measures to support mental health in your organisation or find out what we are doing here at Dentons to achieve best practice in this area please get in touch.