Understanding mental health issues

As people start returning to work after the pandemic, Caroline Moore examines the problems that mental health might cause and offers advice on how best to help those showing signs of strain

Mental health-related absence is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces, and unfortunately, the trend continues. With employees adjusting to new working models and the speed to change impacting roles and expectations, many are struggling while still managing ongoing anxiety and safety concerns about Covid rates and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

The cost of poor mental health to businesses is more than merely a financial issue. To put it into perspective, according to The Mental Health Foundation, “a staggering 70 workdays were lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK.” And the Centre for Mental Health noted in July 2020 that “the economic and social cost of mental ill-health in England has grown in the last decade to almost £119 billion a year.

Ensuring teams have the capability and skill to support colleagues experiencing mental health via humanising them and identifying triggers and issues

Yet, interestingly, the pandemic has raised the issue of mental health, and for many, this has been an unexpected opportunity to be more open and have better, more supportive conversations. Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to proactively create more inclusive organisations with healthy cultures that ensure talent has the support they deserve and need from their employer.  

There are several practical steps all organisations can take to create a broader mental health strategy that will continue to positively impact their employee brand and the mental health and wellbeing of their teams. Ultimately this has a significant return on investment with a recent report from Deloitte outlining that every £1 spent on staff wellbeing results in a £5 return for employers.

The first goal should be to create an environment where it is okay to disclose or not disclose any mental issues or illness at work and that it’s okay to ask for help. A Mind survey found that one in ten employees rated their current mental health as poor or very poor. But many people are too scared to raise the issue for fear that their managers or colleagues will not understand and it will negatively impact their job, relationships, and future prospects.

Education and coaching are vital in turning this around and implementing a culture that includes psychological safety. Understandably, without relevant training, managers shy away from the subject of mental health. Fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ or making matters worse can result in a culture of silence. Providing managers with practical skills that can be used in the workplace every day can prevent mental health issues from spiralling into a crisis. Being able to spot early warning signs and symptoms and feeling confident to guide people towards appropriate support is a valuable ability and skill to have as a manager.

Workshops are an effective way to help managers feel more confident to talk about mental health with their teams. Educating managers and senior teams can have incredible benefits. If mental health concerns go unrecognised or unaddressed, they can quickly lead to bigger problems for the organisation and the employee. Identifying employees who are struggling quickly can shorten their time to getting back on track, supporting them to manage their work-life and personal life together effectively. 

But with the rising numbers around mental health, organisations should consider providing Mental Health First Aid. The Centre for Mental Health Thinktank has warned that based on research into Covid-19 and the effects of other epidemics on mental health that 20% of all adults in England will need support for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental health difficulties in the coming months and years.

Mental Health First Aid helps illuminate a deeper understanding of the issues and impact. With flexible and hybrid working practices still in place in many locations or even the expectation to return to work when there is still fear of contracting Covid-19 can trigger many of the difficulties identified. Ensuring teams have the capability and skill to support colleagues experiencing mental health via humanising them and identifying triggers and issues, such as why the return is causing anxiety and what can be done to address the concerns, can completely change the dynamic.

And finally, if someone has had to take personal time, ensuring you have a mental health programme that supports and enables a smooth transition back into the office helps to close the circle. Combining education with coaching to ensure that teams and individuals have the right back-to-work plan and provide a safe place to address self-esteem will boost resilience helps staff return with confidence. 

Ultimately, with the proper support and structure, our employees can bring their whole selves to work. When we’re able to do this, we have better engagement, productivity is at its peak, and we’re able to do our best, most innovative work and not waste time or energy trying to look good or fit in. A healthy culture with a healthy team means thriving and performing to our very best best – the most reliable way to grow a company.

Caroline Moore is managing director of Working Transitions 



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