A professional approach to mental health at work
Posted Wednesday 4 November 2009
A new resource on the Time to Change website aimed at the nation’s stressed out workforce is being launched today, on National Stress Awareness Day (4 November). The new resource, produced by the national anti-stigma programme Time to Change, provides practical advice on how mental distress can be managed professionally at work. It uses a wide range of inspiring films to show how line managers and employees can work together by being more flexible and supportive.
The website’s launch comes as new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows a quarter of UK workers describe their mental health as moderate or poor, yet 98 per cent continue to work regularly, showing that there is a real need for all workplaces to be better equipped to manage mental health problems (1).
Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change said: There is a real appetite for this resource with many employers struggling to know what to do to meet their obligations and employees who simply don’t know their rights. Many leading companies have found that making a strategic commitment to the mental wellbeing of their workforce not only has benefits for their staff but also benefits their bottom-line, improving productivity and staff retention. With one in four people experiencing mental illness it’s time for businesses to work on their approach and start creating more mentally healthy workplaces.
One organisation that is leading the way on mental health is the NHS. At their annual conference ‘Leading Workforce Thinking’, NHS Employers today announced that it will be launching a campaign this winter to help NHS organisations support staff with mental health problems and encourage trusts to employ more staff from this vulnerable group. The Open Your Mind campaign on mental health and employment aims to reduce mental health stigma and help employers to create a better working environment for staff with mental health problems.
Also, later this week NICE is launching public health guidance for employers aimed at promoting mental wellbeing at work through the development of productive and healthy working conditions. The guidance will recommend how employers can help reduce the estimated 13.7 million working days lost each year due to work related mental health conditions including stress, depression and anxiety.
Mental illness in the workplace is still a very taboo subject with many employees preferring to conceal their problems which can mean they don’t get the support they need and can leave them unprotected by the Disability Discrimination Act. The Time to Change website offers advice so that workers can make an informed choice on whether or not to tell their employer about their mental illness.
Time to Change ambassador and Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications Alastair Campbell, experienced the daunting prospect of telling his employer about his mental health history.
When Tony Blair asked me to work for him in 1994, I said to him “Tony, you do know about my breakdown and that I get depression from time to time?”. He said, “I’m not worried, if you’re not worried".
One of the people featured on the website is Sofia, a call centre worker who has experienced depression for over 10 years.
The best thing my manager did for me was treat me like a ‘normal’ person. In fact, even treating me like a brave person for coming to terms with my depression, acknowledging it and making her aware. She understands how difficult that was for me. My manager went above and beyond their legal responsibilities. She treated me like a person, not just ticking boxes, not just from a business aspect but from a human aspect as well.
Unfortunately, not all employers are enlightened about mental illness. A staggering 56 per cent of the British public said they would not employ someone with a history of depression, even if they deemed them the best candidate, because they assumed they would be unreliable (2). The Time to Change website challenges this myth and proves that people with mental illness can have a fulfilling working life.
The website also offers advice for employees when things don’t go according to plan and shows how the law protects against discrimination on the grounds of a mental health problem.
Set up to create a positive shift in public attitudes towards mental health problems, Time to Change is a huge anti-stigma campaign led by Mind and Rethink and funded by £16million from Big Lottery Fund and £4million from Comic Relief. It promotes better understanding to combat discrimination towards the 1 in 4 people who experience mental health problems.
(1) CIPD, 2009, Employee Outlook survey
(2) Time to Change, 2009. YouGov Plc, total sample size was 2082 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31 July - 3 August 2009. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)