Mental Health Smile

Workplace blues – Surviving or Thriving?

I’m going to be confronting a topic which many of us won’t talk about: Mental health. It used to be a topic which was rarely talked about and something that wasn’t considered normal. Even today there is still a ‘stigma’ attached to mental health. Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) found that one in three employees experience a mental health problem at work. However only 5% of Britons admitted to taking time off due to mental health related issues. These are the harsh realities that these statistics show.

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week I am going to face the issue of mental health at work and how both employers and employees can do more to thrive at work, rather than survive at work.

What is mental health?

Mental health is the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. Mental ill-health can range from feeling ‘a bit down’ to normal illnesses such as anxiety and depression. I use normal here because they are, and should be considered, the same as any other illness.

Mental health at work

Work is cited as one of the main triggers of mental health problems in the UK. One-third of employees have experienced or are diagnosed with a mental health illness, with two-thirds of those citing work as a main factor. Although there has been much progress in the way we talk about and deal with mental health, there is still a stigma attached to it.

Many employees who struggle with mental health are concerned that their employer will see them as less capable, weak or unreliable. With so much change and uncertainty over the future of work, it’s no surprise that individuals struggle to bring up mental health at work.

Understanding and addressing mental health at work is extremely important. Studies have shown that employees who are struggling with mental health issues are more likely to get into conflicts with colleagues, find it harder to multi-task, find it more difficult to concentrate and can lead to long-term sickness absences.

Why is good mental health important?

Promoting good mental health should be in everyone’s interest. But not only is it the ‘right thing to do’, recognising, valuing and protecting mental wellbeing in the workplace makes good business sense. Key findings from Mind and the Mental Health Foundation showed that people living with mental health problems contributed an estimated £226 billion gross value added (12.1%) to the UK GDP. This shifts the narrative from mental health being a burden, to being an asset to the company. On the other end of the spectrum, mental health problems also cost the UK economy around £70 billion is lost working days, productivity and healthcare.

What can we do to promote positive mental health at work?

There are no set rules or procedures in ensuring your workplace is a supportive and safe environment. But there are so many things you can do to promote positive mental health at work.

  • Creating an open and supportive culture at work in which employees can talk freely about mental health issues can greatly improve an employee’s trust in their employer. It will also enable people to seek help when they need it.
  • Have senior management commit to supporting mental health and wellbeing in the company. Being able to have support from prominent figures can ease employee’s anxiety over disclosing mental health issues. Think of Lady Gaga and Prince William recently discussing over FaceTime the issues of mental health and promoting good mental health.
  • Have clear mental health policies within the company that are implemented at all levels. This can be included in your sickness policies or an entirely new policy altogether. This makes it clear that you are aware of the importance of mental health and have steps in place to help manage and tackle it.

These are but a few of a number of things you can do to improve mental health in your workplace.

There’s no need to be ‘Singing the blues’

A huge issue we face in the present time is normalising the issue of mental health. We ought to abandon the word ‘stigma’ when addressing mental health, but at the same time we shouldn’t be talking about “ending the stigma of mental health” if we really want to normalise it.

Mental health is an integral part of how we feel about our jobs, how we perform and how well we cope with the stresses that come with work. It affects not just the employee but the organisation too. I recommend people who suffer from mental health issues to speak up and be vocal about it – There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you’re not okay. This year’s theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’ and I strongly believe we should all be thriving at work, not just surviving.

It’s okay, to not be okay.

Alan Cheung