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Three lessons on mental health at work from the Mad World summit

The Mad World summit 2018 focused on moving beyond mental health awareness towards the actions employers can take to tackle mental illness in the workplace

1. Recognise that mental health issues can start at a young age

Too often schools are not providing young people with the tools they need to deal with the pressures of working life, which can lead to stress and exacerbate existing mental health problems in young people, said Anthony Seldon, vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham.

“Mental illness is scary. When we see figures like one in four girls are self-harming you’ve got to wonder what’s going on. Everyone is unique and special, but the school system places too much emphasis on exam results, which we know are not a reflection of how successful people will be in the workplace,” he said.

“We can and should be teaching people how to deal with their emotions, and to know how to deal with the stresses of working life. If we had a choice between young people who are achieving strong exam results, or who are emotionally healthy, capable, and well-equipped to deal with stress, I think I know what we’d all choose.”

Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa, agreed that mental illness often starts before people enter the workplace. “It’s very rare to see adults who are struggling with their mental health who did not experience some problems with their mental health in their childhood or adolescence,” he added.

2. Employers need to help employees before they reach crisis point

Ruth Hutchinson, senior mental health lead at Neyber, said that employers often wait until there is a crisis around mental health before offering help to employees.

“Our research has shown that 11% of people with mental health problems are losing their jobs, and employers sometimes are not aware that there’s a problem until someone is in the middle of a disciplinary. Everyone is different, but we know that people with mental health issues might have problems with productivity and with their concentration,” she said.

“From a socioeconomic, political, and personal perspective, it’s very clear that what we’re very low on in our society at the moment is tolerance. We need to learn to become more tolerant, and to ask people who are struggling what we can do to help. We need to trust people more. There are very small things employers can do if they want to help with mental health. If it’s done right, work can be a huge part of helping people with their recovery.”

3. Give people the tools to empower themselves

It’s important to come from a place of empowerment, and to recognise that we all have the power to improve mental health, said Carol Black, expert advisor on health and work to NHS England and Public Health England.

“It’s really important that we don’t see people who are dealing with mental health issues as victims, and that people don’t see themselves as victims. When we start doing that we risk making the problem far worse,” she said. “You can have the efficacy to change your life, and you can all do things to help others with their mental health.”

10 October 2018 is World Mental Health Day