Mental health at work: Let’s keep talking about it

mental health

Over the past decade, mental health has risen up the agenda for individuals, businesses and the Government. 

Many of us now recognise the merit in treating mental health as seriously as physical health. 

As the stigma surrounding mental health conditions has started to dissipate, we’re starting to see people become more comfortable and confident talking about their mental health challenges in and out of work. 

Creating an environment where people can talk about their mental health is important.  It improves the likelihood of someone seeking the support they need far earlier which can have a positive impact on recovery rates. It also helps us to understand the true extent of the mental health of employees in the UK.

Recent NHS data found that the majority of employee fit notes are now for mental health related conditions, however, this also reflects the fact that people are now more willing to seek help. At Bupa we have seen a 53 per cent increase in the number of employees receiving treatment for mental health conditions over the last decade, but we have also seen an increase in the number of employees who say that workplace attitudes towards mental illness have improved, and that they would be more willing to talk to their line manager about it.

Changing attitudes towards mental health in the workplace is important, as well as recognising the extent to which employees may be affected by mental health.

Addressing attitudes to mental health in the workplace

Many businesses of varying sizes already take steps to safeguard their employees’ mental health in the same way they would their physical health.  They are fostering a culture where employees feel they can seek help and support in a confidential forum.  Workplace wellbeing initiatives can make mental health less of a taboo, providing support to those in need through effective treatment, such as psychological therapies. 

The wellbeing revolution

The Government’s review into mental health practices in the workplace, led by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, is due to be published imminently. The review is part of a broader package of reforms in the UK that addresses mental health as a multifaceted issue. 

The review will play a significant role in shaping how employers approach workplace wellbeing, but we’re already seeing a number of developments that are helping to modernise our approach to mental wellbeing. Mental health first aid is becoming increasingly recognised by senior politicians and business leaders, as a useful first step in identifying signs of mental health issues, both in the early and crisis stages.

The advent of smart technology has made it easier for employees to seek mental health support in a convenient way. Historically many businesses have provided their people with an Employee Assistance Programme which includes 24/7 telephone access to a dedicated team of therapists, providing expert emotional and practical support. However, these offerings have evolved as new channels have become available to people. Now employees experiencing mild or moderate symptoms of psychological distress can use an online mental wellbeing service and benefit from being able to access our cognitive behavioural therapy programme, online, or via an app.

Another key development is the increased recognition and understanding of the diverse nature of the modern workforce and the fact that much like employees themselves, no two businesses are alike. Many UK businesses now take an employee-led approach to providing physical and mental health and wellbeing initiatives, which are based on the concerns and challenges faced by their employers.  

It is an important time for the mental health and wellbeing agenda and one thing is for certain: as businesses continue to share best practice and focus on building a supportive workplace culture, they can expect to see a happier, healthier workforce.

Patrick Watt – Corporate Director at Bupa UK