Mental health at work

May 18, 2016

There is a lot written about mental health in the workplace and a lot of ideas on how to protect and support employees fly around. And yet many organisations still do not act - are they confused by where to start, shackled by the stigma that still surrounds mental health, or have simply failed to understand the imperatives? 


We all have mental health and we all experience periods of good and bad mental health, as we do with our physical health. It is important to help people to stay well wherever possible, and employers have a duty to help this. Being in good mental health allows us to cope with everyday pressures, work productively, and maintain positive relationships. It's good for individuals, organisations and society.


And yet, the scale of mental ill health is staggering - since 2009, the number of working days lost to 'stress, depression and anxiety' in the UK has increased by 24% and the total cost to employers of mental health problems amongst staff is estimated at nearly £26 billion each year. However, by taking a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace, we can reduce this number - and the suffering - considerably; stopping problems from starting in the first place and helping people to manage their health concerns better.


This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and I am very proud that we at Forster have worked with the charity Business in the Community and Public Health England to develop a major new free mental health resource. The Mental Health Toolkit for Employers aims to help every organisation of every size take positive actions to build a culture that champions good mental health and to support those who have mental health problems. 


The free resource is the most comprehensive of its kind and covers everything from legal obligations, how to put support structures in place and how to tackle stigma through to how to create cultures of wellbeing and support those experiencing mental ill health.


Supporting the mental health of employees is an essential part of business success. The approaches we have taken at Forster are amongst a raft of benefit and wellbeing initiatives that led to us being named PR Week's Best Place to Work (small agency) last year. 


Our own industry though - PR, communications and marketing - certainly needs to get its house in order. A survey carried out for PR Week by the PRCA revealed that more than a third of people working in the sector have experienced or been diagnosed with mental ill health, and that a majority would not feel comfortable talking to their boss about it.


My industry is built on the idea of changing attitudes and behaviours through effective communications. Tackling mental health is built on that exact principle, and how ironic then that so many people working in communications feel they cannot talk about it. It is time that every business steps up to its responsibility to address mental health and I hope that our sector can play a leading role in making that happen. 


The theme of this Mental Health Awareness Week is 'relationships' and it is our relationships at work - with colleagues and line mangers - that can define our experiences. Every business should have a culture that allows for open dialogue and positive support, and this will only be achieved if it is led from the very top. With this new toolkit, knowing what to do and taking the first steps to act has never been easier. 


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