It is a relief that mental health can be discussed without discrimination now we are in the 21st century. Mental health - these two words are as broad as they are wide. There are so many conceptions of mental health ranging from post-natal depression to schizophrenia. A survey documented by APSCo (the governing body for recruitment agencies) has found that nearly 50% of employees living with a mental health condition do not inform their employer, with more than a third (39%) saying that they feared their reaction and the repercussions. This is due to the history of mental health when most employers would shun, dismiss and alienate any employee who showed ‘odd’ signs or gestures in the workplace.
Other reasons cited included not being comfortable telling the individual (59%), the stigma around mental health (42%) and the lack of support in the workplace (22%); with 55% saying they were either unaware of any support available or that their workplace lacked in any assistance for mental illness.
The same survey of 1,400 respondents, which comprised 80% males aged 41+ working within construction, professional services, IT, digital, engineering and energy, revealed that 1 in 5 (21%) had experienced a mental health problem and of those, 62% were either seeking treatment or had sought treatment in the past.
Almost 1 in 10 of all respondents had also at some point considered taking their own life, revealing that their mental health issue had left them feeling suicidal.
These findings are shocking and very concerning. There is still a major disconnect between mental health awareness and openness at work, which means people are still uncomfortable discussing the subject due to fear of what their employer may think or the risk of them losing their jobs altogether.
It appears too many people are still suffering in silence, which can often result in people having time off work. Four of the respondents said they were off work for more than a year as a result of their mental illness, which will have had a significant impact on their employer in lost productivity.
An understanding of mental illness and safety is critical in many industries. Whilst victims’ employers try very hard in protecting staff from physical harm, the same effort is needed to address mental illnesses in the workplace. To eradicate the taboo associated with mental illness we need to encourage open and honest working cultures and debates that provide better support and training to help spot the early signs of mental ill-health.
It is important therefore to train a handful of staff across businesses to become ‘mental health first aiders’. So they possess the practical skills to spot the signs of mental illness among staff, including its temporary staff and contractors. Confidence to intervene and support those in need is paramount. Companies objectives should be to support their mental health first aiders and ensure that they are fully up to date with any training provided. HR qualified staff have never been more important to their employers and employees, in being instrumental to this issue in the workplace. Ensuring HR teams are able to research and implement ways to protect staff and that staff handbooks have all the necessary information when staff are feeling vulnerable.
It is important companies prioritise mental ill-health in their business and develop meaningful and impactful mental, emotional and physical wellbeing programmes to support staff to help them to thrive. World Mental Health Day released a new whitepaper highlighting workplace mental health and the steps employers can take to create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. At AP Group we liaise and assist charities in the island associated with mental health including Jersey Employment Trust (JET) who help a wide range of people not all with mental health issues but need help to return to the workplace.