These days, our working lives are much busier and faster-paced than ever before. Work-related stress and anxiety are estimated to be the second biggest occupational health problem in the UK, after musculoskeletal disorders such as back problems. A lot of people may not have come across co-workers taking time off sick due to mental health issues – but the truth is that, according to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health problems account for the loss of 91 million working days each year. With numbers like that, the question must be asked – why are we still not talking about mental health in the workplace?
The fact is, mental health is still a taboo subject in the workplace. Experiencing anxiety or depression is not something we usually chat to our co-workers about over lunch. Because of this lack of discourse around the topic, we might think that mental health issues just aren’t something that affect the people that we know and work with – but in actual fact, 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health condition in the course of a year. The likelihood is that someone you work closely with has experienced or is experiencing a mental health issue.
However, workplaces can also offer vital lines of support for people experiencing mental health issues. For instance, employers can carry out stress risk assessments, such as the one hosted on the Fit for Work website, to gauge the levels of stress being caused in their workplace and work out how to tackle it.
We spend a significant portion of our lives at work, making it a key place to open up honest discussion around mental health. Without this, it can lead to people feeling isolated and unable to express how they feel. Employers have a duty of care to create a workplace culture that does not shy away from discussion of mental health issues; it needs to be made explicit to all employees that time off work due to mental ill health will be treated in the exact same way as time off due to physical ill health.
Managers should also be trained in how to spot the signs of someone experiencing mental health issues, and how to sensitively and gently broach the topic with employees. The mental health charity Mind have a useful guide for managers on how to support staff experiencing a mental health problem.
So, if you see a colleague or employee showing signs of struggling with their mental health, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Enabling an open and sensitive discussion around the subject will help to lessen the stigma for everyone, and make mental health easier to tackle as a result.
The Fit for Work advice hub has some useful advice for employers and employees looking to make workplace adjustments for those with mental health conditions.