workplace mental health

Workplace mental health is still seen as a taboo subject in many organisations and not enough is being done to reduce the long-standing stigma and discrimination, says Jill Mead, managing director at TalkOut

In 2018, over 15 million days were lost to anxiety, stress and depression and the Thriving at Work report conducted in 2017 revealed that mental health in the workplace costs employers in the UK a staggering £42 billion per year.

More worryingly though is the way mental health is still viewed and treated in the workplace. We are two years on from this and whilst some work is being done it’s not enough to tackle the stigma that still remains around workplace mental health.

According to Time to Change, 95% of people calling into work with stress will give a different reason and 49% of workers don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. And given that there are currently 32.7 million employees in the UK, this suggests that a significant proportion of our workforce feel they aren’t able to talk out about their mental health.

What’s more, a recent report by the Health & Safety Executive shows that while the rate of work-related stress, depression and anxiety was broadly flat from 2001 to 2015, it has increased in recent years and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

So, what exactly should businesses be doing to create a culture of openness and trust, where people feel safe and secure, supported and not judged?

Open culture

Business leaders must take responsibility of ensuring their organisation has a mentally healthy environment where people can talk about mental health in the same way they talk about physical health without fear of consequences. An environment where it’s okay not to be okay in the workplace. It’s important that all organisations create a confidential and safe place where employees can go to talk through concerns and demonstrate a wider commitment to promoting respect and wellbeing across the business.

If we’re going to make any progress, mental health needs to stop being seen as a taboo in the workplace and there needs to be an understanding and acknowledgement that people with mental health issues can often thrive at work with the right support.

Leadership behaviour

Let’s not underestimate leadership behaviours and the impact they can have on a team member’s mental health. More training is needed to help leaders understand how they can influence mental health (in a positive or negative way) through their words and actions. As well as the workday pressures and deadlines that we all experience, work-related stress and anxiety can be caused by bullying, harassment and even a lack of managerial support.

Negative leadership behaviour will often have a ripple effect throughout an organisation, creating a culture of fear which will only serve to stop people talking about how they feel in work. Employees become de-motivated and productivity and morale drops. Leaders are role models and in order for a mentally healthy culture of openness and trust to exist, this has to be demonstrated at the highest levels in the organisation.

Training and education

Clearly, more needs to be done to better equip management with the resources and confidence they need to respond in a positive and helpful way when a team member takes the step to open up about their mental health issues. Spreading awareness across an organisation and educating management around mental health should be the first step for any business.

Many employees are promoted to a managerial role because they’ve excelled at their job and it’s the next natural step in their career but too often, they aren’t given the formal training they need. If they don’t have experience of mental health or training, it’s unfair to expect managers to know how to deal with these complex issues when they arise in the workplace, as well as notice the signs of someone struggling with their mental health.

Managers are nervous about doing or saying the wrong thing when someone talks about mental health and more needs to be done to give them the confidence to manage that conversation. It’s crucial that we train our managers to give them the skills to support and empathise with those who are experiencing mental health issues, which in turn will encourage people to talk out.


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