By Babylon Health | UPDATED: 10:42, 05 November 2019
Mental health is the main cause of sick-days in the UK, with 15.4 million working days lost each year, which equates to 57% of working days annually. Similarly, in England alone 31% of sick notes handed out by GPs are for mental health conditions.
Yet, a recent survey conducted by Babylon Health revealed that 79% of Brits wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing a mental health issue with their employer, and 72% think mental health is not discussed enough in the workplace.
“We like to think that we are professionals and can completely switch off from these [mental health] issues when we work, but this is not always the case.” – Josh* 26, London
For many employees, leaving their personal issues behind at work isn’t always easy, as Josh* from London explains, “My role is creative and therefore offers lots of time for free-thought, and this can often have a negative effect on my mental health if things aren’t right in my life.”
Similarly, Marina* (age 27) from Manchester opened up to Babylon saying, “For me it can be difficult to leave personal relationships and issues outside of work, as a lot of the time they are directly linked to the workplace. Working in [the] media makes it hard to avoid these as circles are closely linked, and everybody knows everybody.”
We asked the public which factors have previously made them feel stressed, depressed or anxious:
Mental health is not openly discussed enough in the workplace
“I think all offices could benefit from discussing the issue [mental health] more openly. It’s a difficult issue for many people to be open about, but I think a lot of people would be surprised to find how many of their colleagues struggle with the same problems as them.” – Josh*
72% of respondents surveyed think that mental health is not openly discussed enough in their workplace:
24-year-old Sandra* from Bristol stresses the importance of employers discussing mental health issues:
“Everyone has issues and personal stuff going on – for employers, it’s important to create a supportive environment, i.e. your employee feels safe and that they can come to you in confidence if they need to open up”.
She adds, “My current employer makes me feel included by checking in on me, taking a genuine interest in me, my role and – where appropriate – my interests. He doesn’t pry and works hard to encourage a work/life balance by leading by example and we spend time with colleagues outside of the office. It doesn’t feel forced or awkward unlike with my other agency.”
Over half of Brits think mental health conditions are stigmatised in their workplace
“Workplaces love to tout an inclusive work environment and jump on the mental health awareness bandwagon but crumble when they’re put in a position to put their money/integrity where their mouth is.” – Sandra*
Over half of respondents surveyed think that mental health conditions are stigmatised in their own workplace.
Sandra* advises to find a new role if your current workplace isn’t supportive of your work-related anxiety:
“Firstly, reach out to HR and a trusted colleague (preferably a manager) – gauge their response. Workplaces love to tout an inclusive work environment and jump on the mental health awareness bandwagon but crumble when they’re put in a position to put their money/integrity where their mouth is. Save yourself the frustration, guilt and shame and find a new role. Support needs to happen at home and at work – it’s not just on you.”
She adds, “if you meet employers who want to question the law just remember that you are the priority and you really don’t owe your mental wellbeing to anyone – don’t compromise on your happiness. There are plenty of employers who do get it and understand how to prioritise wellbeing at work.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Workplace Mental Health advice from a GP
Dr Claudia Pastides suggests two main areas where employers can improve their mental health support for staff:
1: Developing mental health awareness
Dr Claudia says “One way of developing mental health awareness in the workplace is by improving the ‘mental health literacy’ of every person in the workplace. Mental health literacy means having knowledge and beliefs about mental health problems.
“This knowledge helps the individual to recognise, manage or prevent mental health problems.
“Not knowing how to recognise mental health problems means not knowing when to seek or to offer help. Therefore, a good starting point for workplaces is to improve mental health literacy.
“This will not only help the employee to recognise their symptoms, but it will also make colleagues and managers aware of the signs to look out for in those around them. We know that early recognition and intervention is best when it comes to mental health.”
Examples of how to improve mental health literacy include:
Hold mental health awareness days/weeks
Training for employees on mental health awareness and wellbeing
Training for managers on workplace wellbeing
Setting up ‘mental health champions’ in the workplace
2: Encouraging open conversations and support when needed
Dr Claudia says “Reducing the stigma around mental health is important, as is early identification and access to support. Ways to address this include:
Training up Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace. They are trained to recognise the early signs of mental health problems, and also know where to signpost people to for more support.
Offering access to an advice line or psychotherapy services to all employees
Offering access to medical services or establishing links with local mental health services”