The issue of mental health has recently received much needed recognition as a priority for employers as well as wider society.
Historically, we have had little issue recognising physical health problems and employers have increasingly made efforts to assist staff in dealing with physical illnesses and ailments. What has become increasingly clear is that that mental health conditions are both common and potentially as debilitating as physical conditions.
With the issue of mental health being recognised on “World Mental Health Day” on 10th October 2018, recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics (“ONS”) suggest that days lost to stress, anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions could be as high as 15 million during the last year. More seriously, ONS statistics show that one industry particularly affected is construction with men in the sector being 3 times more likely to take their own lives than men on average.
In light of the devastating effect of mental health problems on individuals and families, what should all employers being doing to help their staff?
There are numerous ways in which an employer can offer support to staff, some examples being:
Training line managers. Line managers have a key role in early recognition of potential problems and offering assistance where issues arise. Helping staff with mental health issues requires awareness and skill in the same way that a first aider receives regular training to allow them to effectively respond to a physical emergency. Businesses leading the way with promoting positive mental health and wellbeing of staff have introduced the concept of a “mental health first aider”.
Reducing isolation. The positive effects of integration on performance are well known and the idea of “team building” is a time honoured management initiative. Reducing isolation (physically or otherwise) by encouraging integration and, importantly, promoting openness amongst staff may avoid individuals feeling “alone” and exacerbating mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
3. Sign post support. Some employers may be able to offer access to occupational health services, access to telephone counselling or similar support services. If such services are available, ensure that staff know how they can access them. If such services are not available, sign post staff to other organisations and charities which offer assistance and support in dealing with mental health such as Mind, the Samaritans or simply an individual’s own GP.
4. Ask. As a bottom line, asking how staff are can go along way to identifying and addressing problems with mental health and wellbeing. Whilst some will not want to discuss anything and everything with their employer, feeling like there is genuine interest from an employer can make individuals feel valued and offer an opportunity to open up. Simply asking “how are you?” may be all it takes to avoid someone continuing to struggle with a problem alone.
Mental health is a complex and often sensitive issue, but addressing the matter and taking measures can have considerable benefits. For the individuals concerned, the team as a whole and the general productivity and welfare of employees. No two circumstances are the same, so talking things through and receiving sound legal advice can help you to put measures in place to create a strong and supportive working environment.