A quarter of us will experience mental health issues at some point in our lives. But what signs should you look out for that your mental health is suffering?
Who should you turn to for help with your mental health, both at work and outside of work? Read on to find out.
What’s the problem?
A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates that mental ill health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year. But it’s not just about money. The study looked at the impact of poor mental health, finding that 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with their colleagues and 80% find it hard to concentrate.
Is there a stigma about mental health?
Amanda Griffiths is Professor of Occupational Health Psychology in the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine. Professor Griffiths says: ‘We are much more aware now about mental health and how common it is for employees to have problems – both those that are caused by work and those that are non-work related. There is less of a stigma, but this will vary as to what type of organisation you work in. Some organisations have a more positive culture where seeking help is OK’.
Making mental health a priority
Emma Mamo is head of workplace wellbeing at Mind. She says: ‘Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of employers making the mental health of their staff a priority. This is largely due to heightened awareness and reduced stigma surrounding mental health, thanks in part to movements like Time to Change, run jointly by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness’.
However, Mamo adds that while there has ‘undoubtedly been a positive shift in societal and employers towards those of us with mental health problems, we still hear from people who have been disciplined, demoted or even dismissed as a result of disclosing. This isn’t good enough’.
What are the warning signs?
There’s helpful advice here. Some early indicators of possible poor mental health are feeling negative, being indecisive, feelings of isolation or nerves. If your drinking or eating habits have changed or you are smoking or drinking to help you cope or have difficulty sleeping these can be indicators too.
Extra support in the workplace
Awareness of your mental health needs is vital: you wouldn’t ignore a physical illness so don’t do so with a mental condition.
It’s also important to remember that we are all different and workplaces should be inclusive and respond to everyone’s needs. ‘Disabled people can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace’ adds Mamo. ‘But some may need extra support to help them overcome barriers and thrive in their roles’.
It’s also worth remembering that having AAT qualifications makes it easy to work flexibly which can be helpful in managing your mental health needs.
What should you do?
Talk to someone if you’re worried about your mental health. Ideally, approach your line manager or if you’d rather, human resources –and do it sooner rather than later.
Louise Aston is Community Well-being Director for Business in the Community. She says: ‘The key thing is that mental health needs to be given the same parity as physical health. If an employee had, for example, a broken ankle then you would expect an employer to make adjustments for them.
Employers should be similarly accommodating to the needs of those with mental health problems: that could mean introducing training for workplace adjustments and work modifications, including changes to tasks and phased returns, for example’. There are some examples of how employers deal with mental health issues here.
What can your employer do?
Changes to working hours, roles, responsibilities and place of work could help. ‘For example, if your medication makes you drowsy in the mornings, it would be reasonable for your employer to let you start and finish your working day later’ adds Mamo.
‘It’s in the employers’ interests to invest in the mental health of their staff. Offering things like generous annual leave, flexible working hours, free fruit, subsidised exercise classes and Employee Assistant Programmes (24 hour telephone support) can all make a difference’.
Leading from the top
If you are the boss or a line manager, then if you suffer from poor mental health then share that with your colleagues. Aston explains: ‘Businesses have to make it clear that it is OK not to be OK and message should come from the top.
It was so important when Lloyds Banking Group chief executive Antonio Horta-Osario disclosed that how restoring Lloyds Bank’s fortunes almost shattered his mental health and why he’s on a mission to end the stigma of workplace stress. It’s a great example of how an organisation can champion mental health from the top’.
Mental health embedded in company culture
Aston adds: ‘It is so important that mental health at work is embedded in the organisation’s culture through operational procedures and accountability. Measurement and monitoring is also crucial as we know ‘what gets measured gets managed’. In the interests of transparency and accountability, employers should publicly report on mental health and wellbeing.
It is all about leadership. Lots of organisations make promises but what they need to is to change their approach. This is not about ticking boxes’. She adds: ‘It is important that there is a culture of openness, that mental health issues are talked about in a supportive environment of inclusivity’.
And employers being positive about mental health issues can see a difference in the bottom line: a report by Deloitte found that employers saw a return on investment of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 spent on workplace well-being interventions.
We are all different and a 21st century workplace will reflect that. Mental illness should be treated on a par with physical conditions and your employer should accommodate and respond to your needs. But they do need to know about it first.
If you have mental health issues then approach your line manager. Or if you’d rather, go to your union representative or HR department. There’s nothing to be gained from ignoring your condition – indeed it could make it worse.
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- Comprehensive advice on mental health in the workplace can be found here
- For more on inclusivity in the workplace
- How I overcame anxiety whilst studying AAT
Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.