Mental Health Stigma Kills

Mental Health Stigma Kills

Is mental health the last workplace taboo? Today is World Mental Health Day. Despite the fact that 1 in 3 people*1in the UK experience mental ill health, we still find it difficult to talk about it and seek support. Mental ill health is not something that happens to other people. It happens to people like you and me.

The results of a recent survey of 2,000 workers, published in the Guardian today, show that 40% experienced symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the past year. I know from my work with leading employers, that there is still a very poor uptake of resources available through occupational health. This is often due to the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health, which is usually caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge. People are concerned about the impact that disclosing their mental illness may have on their career.

Stigma kills. If people feel unable to seek support when they are experiencing emotional distress, this can lead to suicidal thoughts as people look for a way to escape the distress. Suicide is more common than you might think. 3 times as many people die by suicide in the UK than in road traffic accidents. It is the biggest killer of our young men. The global figure for people who experience suicidal thoughts during their lifetime can be as high as 1 in 2. We just don’t talk about it.

There is a common misconception that if someone has experienced mental ill health once, they are more likely to become ill again in the future. The vast majority of people make a full recovery from a period of mental ill health and never experience their symptoms again. Even people who have a severe and enduring mental illness are able to manage their symptoms with on-going support, talking therapies, medication and self-management techniques. As an employer, our expectation should be that most people make a full recovery, in the same way as we would if they were experiencing a physical illness.

I have seen a marked shift in the past 5 years, with more employers recognising the importance of good mental health, not only as a responsible employer but also the impact on business performance. Mental ill health costs UK business £26 billion per year*2, which equates to approximately £1,000 per employee.

A very small investment of time and resources can have a huge impact on a business. We have found that just a short 2 hour training session with line managers can be enough to give them the knowledge to recognise the early warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression in work colleagues and the confidence to intervene and make sure that they get the support that they need. This kind of mental health awareness programme was found to have contributed to a 15% reduction in sickness absence in a leading FTSE 100 financial services company. This programme was delivered by trainers who had first hand experience of working at a senior level in the city. Line managers reported that the credibility of the facilitators and their understanding of the high pressure environment gave them increased confidence to tackle this difficult issue.

The time has come for all businesses to start talking about and addressing mental health in the workplace.