Mental health and work has been a hot topic in 2017

The stigma associated with poor mental health has seen Prince Harry share his personal story and, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, back an initiative which aims to get the Armed Forces to take mental health as seriously as physical fitness.

 

While in October the government-commissioned Thriving at Work report found that about 300,000 UK employees with long-term mental health problems lose their job each year.

 

So in the midst of what is the “most wonderful time of the year” for some and “more stressful than a burglary” for others we thought it was time to dedicate a Q & Angel to mental health and work.

 

Why is there stigma around mental health?

 

Many mental health sufferers reckon that the stigma and discrimination they experience can be worse than the illness itself. The problem is with society’s stereotyped views of what a mental illness is.

 

While mental health is routinely stigmatised in most cultures, here cinema has really helped to create prejudice – think Jim Carrey’s comedy Me, Myself & Irene or, well, Hitchcock’s Psycho, for instance.

 

TIP: Read the Time to Change report Screening Madness here.

 

By simplifying, exaggerating or just completely misunderstanding it mental illness can become something to be laughed at or to be feared. No wonder some people don’t want to own up to any issues they might be having!

 

So what is Mental Health, really?

 

According the government’s mental health website: “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

 

They go on to say – Positive mental health allows people to:

  • Realize their full potential
  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Work productively
  • Make meaningful contributions to their communities.

 

Mental health problems can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

 

READ: The government’s mental health basics is a good place to start

 

How many people suffer with poor mental health at work?

 

The charity Mind says 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems in any given year.

 

DISCOVER: Mind’s mental health stats here, including the prevalence of specific problems, like depression and OCD.

 

While the 2017 BITC and YouGov Mental Health at Work report found that:

  • Three out every five employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work
  • Almost a third (31%) of the workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue (Most commonly: depression or general anxiety)

 

Who is more likely to suffer mental ill health?

 

The 2017 Mental Health at Work report stated that: “[P]articular groups, among them young people, men, and black and minority ethnic employees, are more at risk in some areas.

  • 39% of those aged 18 to 29 have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition, compared to 29% of employees in their 50s
  • BUT less than half (44%) feel comfortable talking about mental health at work compared to 57% of those in their 40s and 50s

 

There is a suggestion that today’s ‘employment landscape’ is more precarious and is adversely affecting the mental health of younger people.

 

So workers are still suffering in silence?

 

Worryingly the Mental Health at Work report found that people are still uncomfortable talking about mental health at work:

  • 15% were subject to disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal

 

Plus the aforementioned Mental Health at Work report found:

  • Only 43% of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees feel comfortable talking about mental health at work compared to over half (54%) of white employees

 

The problem is, left unmanaged and mental health problems can have far reaching repercussions.

 

How does mental health affect work, then?

 

The short answer, like any physical problem, yes, poor mental health will affect performance. A Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) study found:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients

 

So, it’s important for both businesses and employees to take their mental health seriously.

 

What can I do at work if I have a mental health problem?

 

Well, first, The Equality Act protects you from discrimination when you are applying for a job, at work, made redundant or dismissed. But ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – provides free and impartial info and advice to both employers and employees on workplace relations and employment law.

 

READ: The ACAS mental health at work advice here.

 

So, what are workplaces doing?

 

Aside from their legal responsibilities employers are being encouraged to show their commitment to good mental health practices – the Time to Change ‘Employer Pledge’ is an example of this. By signing up to the Employer Pledge businesses can help employees facing mental health problems feel more confident about coming forward.

 

What if my workplace isn’t helpful?

 

If you are not confident about approaching your employer, or they aren’t being that supportive organisations like Access to Work and Fit for Work can be a great first stop – these and other organisations can be found on the ACAS site, as mentioned above.

 

TIP: Read the Heads Together #OKtoSay Tips for Talking guides – there is one on opening up and one on what to say if someone opens up to you mental health issues.

 

Any last words?

 

Yes, learn what puts a strain on your own mental health and put things in place to support your wellbeing. You’d go to the gym and eat well, your mind needs that kind of input too. Check out this Guardian Readers’ Tips article on looking after yourself.

 

One reader says: “I make sure I now do certain things to keep my mental wellbeing in check. This includes activities like exercise, meditation, keeping a journal, writing and being outdoors.”

 

Now over to you:

How is the subject of mental wellbeing treated in your workplace? Has a mental health issue caused you employment problems? Got any burning questions we could put to future Q & Angel guests? As ever, we want to hear what you’ve got to say!

 

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