‘Parity of esteem’ is not a phrase that many people are likely to be familiar with. But it’s actually a key concept when thinking about the treatment of mental health issues. NHS England helps to define parity of esteem by stating: “If I become unwell I use services which assess and treat mental health disorders or conditions on a par with physical health illnesses.”
Mental health issues will affect 1 in 4 people in their lifetime, which makes up a huge proportion of the population. When we think of it on that scale, it makes sense that mental health issues should be treated with the same level of care as physical health issues. But as many of us will have experienced or witnessed, this is not always necessarily the case.
One place in which mental health is often not put on a par with physical health is in the workplace. There is often stigma surrounding open discussion of mental health, and it is still seen as a taboo subject – one you may not even bring up around your close friends, let alone your boss or co-worker. Research by Time to Change, an anti-mental health stigma campaign, found that 9 out of 10 people with mental health issues had found that the stigma around the topic had negatively impacted their lives, with two-thirds reporting that the stigma around mental health had prevented them doing things that they wanted to do.
One blogger on the Time to Change website wrote “The number of times people said to me, ‘Come on, you have everything, you have nothing to be sad about just cheer up!’ or ‘what happened to make you upset?’ These questions are seemingly innocent but they hurt when you can’t answer them. That’s the issue with mental health stigma, it is born of people not understanding, therefore without more understanding the stigma will never be broken.”
However, if companies began to apply the principle of parity of esteem in the workplace, this could help the stigma around mental health dissipate, and enable healthy and open discussion. A co-worker who had been off work with a throat infection or broken leg most likely wouldn’t feel ashamed to discuss it – and the same principle should apply to those taking time off work for mental health issues.
Time to Change has re-launched its ‘Employer Pledge’. The pledge is described by Time to Change as ‘an aspirational statement with meaning, indicating to employees, service users and the public that an organisation wants to take action to tackle the stigma and discrimination around mental health, focusing on the workplace in particular.’
Employers can sign up to the pledge online, which will then be backed by an organisation-specific action plan, which details the tangible ways the company can commit to ending the stigma around mental health in the workplace. You can find out about what other companies have been doing on the Time to Change website.
So far, more than 300 companies across the UK have signed up to the pledge. If you agree with the principles behind the concept of parity of esteem, then it makes sense for those principles to be applied in the workplace too. If you are an employer, you can sign up to Time to Change’s employer pledge here – and if you have concerns about mental health in the workplace, visit the Fit for Work advice hub, which is full of useful information on dealing with mental health, from both employer and employee perspectives.