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Employers failing to support mental health issues

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Despite mental health issues being commonplace, workplaces are not providing enough support

Employers across the UK are failing to provide adequate support to employees when it comes to mental health, according to a report from Business in the Community (BITC).

Mental Health at Work found that more than three-quarters (77%) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and 62% said that work has been a contributing factor.

However, just 11% of people discussed their mental health with their line manager during their most recent symptoms, and only 25% felt able to talk to someone at work (such as a colleague, line manager or HR).

Managers did want to help employees, with 76% stating that staff wellbeing is their responsibility. Despite this, two-fifths (40%) of line managers were not confident in responding to symptoms such as panic attacks, depression and mood swings. Fear of interfering or not knowing what to do prevented the majority of the workforce (86%) from approaching a colleague they were concerned about.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at BITC, called for mental health to be taken seriously in the workplace. “Progress will only happen when employers approach mental ill health as they would physical ill health – doing what they can to prevent ill health occurring or escalating, and ensuring proper support for employees when it happens,” she said. “Employees must feel that the workplace is supportive of, rather than detrimental to, their mental health.”

Helen Tucker, HR director, Northern Europe for Procter and Gamble, told HR magazine that creating a culture of openness is one way to help bring discussions about mental health into the workplace. “It’s not a very British thing to talk about mental health openly,” she told HR magazine. “However, even if you’re still learning, if you show you’re willing to talk about it you’re helping to normalise it.”

She explained that Procter and Gamble has dedicated mental health first aiders, known as Healthy Minds Champions, so employees feel they can discuss any issues. “We talk about managing stress, and building resilience,” she said. “If other companies haven’t started their mental health plan yet BITC has some fantastic ideas to help you get started. It is a great toolkit to get you up and running.”

Business in the Community is calling for employers to Talk, Train and Take Action. This means:

  1. Talk: break the culture of silence that surrounds mental health by taking the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge.
  2. Train: invest in basic mental health literacy for all employees and first aid training in mental health to support line manager capability.
  3. Take action: close the gap by asking all staff about their experiences to identify the disconnects that exist in the organisation.