Mental Health – are we ready to move from talk to action?
10 May, 2017
If you’re working or living in Ireland you may have seen a sea of green ribbons in your workplace this month. More than 500,000 green ribbons have been distributed across the country to spark a national conversation about mental health. Something similar is happening in the City of London with workers being encouraged to wear a green ribbon in support of mental health awareness week (8th to 14th May).
A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of people say they have experienced a mental health problem. More than four in 10 people say they have experienced depression and over a quarter of people say they have experienced panic attacks. In fact just 13 per cent of individuals live with high levels of good mental health, with people aged 55 and above being the most likely to take positive action to help themselves deal better with everyday life.
The Foundation also states that mental health problems are all too common in the workplace and are the leading cause of sickness absence. A staggering 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
It is great to see that we are creating opportunities to talk about mental health, with role models and people in the public eye encouraging people to talk about their experiences as well as increase their own awareness from others.
But what happens after mental health awareness week is over? For all the companies that are encouraging their employees to talk about this, what support do they have in place for next week, next month, next year? What actions are they taking to make this a truly sustainable part of their diversity, inclusion or wellbeing strategies?
My fear is that once the PR opportunities have finished some companies may forget about this important issue until the next awareness week. In response to that, here are some of my thoughts as to how to take the awareness that has been developed this week and create it into more sustainable change:
- Clearly articulate how mental health fits into the wider diversity, inclusion and wellbeing strategies within the company.
- Speak to colleagues – find out if they feel the organisation is a safe environment where they are able to speak up. If not, find out how this can be tackled and what the barriers are to being more open.
- Ensure that support mechanisms are available to all and are easily accessible. EY, for example, has trained a number of people across their UK sites to act as Mental Health First Aiders, others companies have created specific support via the Employee Assistance Programme.
- Where are the role models? Do senior leaders and mid-managers talk about mental health and their experiences? Opening up the conversation across the organisation at all levels to share their stories is powerful.
- Has the bias and assumptions associated around mental health been addressed throughout the whole employee life cycle? For example, why would a colleague open up to the company if they feared hindering the possibility of promotion because they may not seem to be ‘resilient enough’?
Ensuring there is a holistic approach to mental health within companies is an important step to create a culture of valuing mental health (and remember, we ALL have mental health, but we mainly talk about it from a negative point of view).
What are the steps your company is taking to create sustainable change? What would your advice be to other companies and to other employers?