Help drive the cultural shift around mental health

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Helping businesses promote positive mental wellbeing throughout society is one of the big challenges of our time. One in four people experience a mental health condition such as stress, depression and anxiety each year.

Disclosing a mental health condition at work still has a huge stigma attached to it, and it’s this culture of silence that can result in suffering and discrimination.

Attitudes are slowly beginning to change but far more needs to be done. Employers need to understand the business benefits and their moral responsibility for engaging with mental health, and take steps to improve employee wellbeing.

Time to Talk Day held on 5 February 2015 is a crucial opportunity for all employees to engage in a national discussion on mental health. Encouraging these conversations is an important first step for employers looking to foster a culture of openness.

In April last year, Business in the Community (BITC) took an important step to help challenge the stigma around mental health issues in the workplace. We launched a landmark campaign and report: Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk, highlighting the urgent need for business-led action on employee mental wellbeing.

Over the past 10 months we have worked hard to build momentum around the campaign, which has seen important research commissioned from member organisations on the scale of the ‘culture of silence’ in UK business.

We’ve made good progress; 13 businesses have now joined BITC’s Mental Health Champions Network and 31 BITC members have signed the Time to Change pledge.

During Responsible Business Week (20-26 April 2015) we will produce a new report showcasing the progress of member organisations – creating a platform for thinking about new ways to engage businesses in mental wellbeing.

Our ambition is to reach a point where all employers treat mental health on an equal footing with physical health. But this can only happen if everyone feels comfortable talking about their mental health, and sharing concerns and challenges with those around them. This is why getting involved with Time to Talk Day is such an important step in driving genuine change.

The business benefits are clear too: it helps organisations to improve productivity, positions them as an employer of choice, as well as attracting and retaining talent. To be fully supportive of workplace wellbeing it’s vital that organisations also put systems in place to ensure that support and treatment for mental health conditions are readily available.

On behalf of the BITC Champions Network, I urge all employers to support their staff to set aside time on this year’s Time to Talk Day for a conversation on mental health – there are a range of resources on the Time to Change website to support this. This is an important first step on the journey to addressing mental health at work, but it shouldn’t be the only step taken if we truly want to break down the wall of silence, and create genuine change.

Patrick Watt is chair of the BITC’s Champions Group and corporate director at Bupa

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