Understanding the scourge of workplace mental illness Understanding the scourge of workplace mental illness

Understanding the scourge of workplace mental illness
10 Oct 2018

Mental illness affects people from all walks of life. While some experience it in bouts, others suffer from prolonged, or even chronic, symptoms.

Certain factors can drastically elevate an individual’s risk though. For instance, working to tight deadlines in a high-pressure environment can be a significant cause of stress, which may aggravate an existing mental health problem or contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.

But the problem, it seems, is widespread. An independent report commissioned by the UK Prime Minister Theresa May entitled ‘Thriving for Work’, which was also backed by management consultancy Deloitte and mental health charity MIND, revealed that 15% of workers at any one time display symptoms of a mental health condition.

Meanwhile, a staggering 300,000 workers lose their jobs each year due to mental health problems. It is estimated that this lost productivity costs the UK economy between £72 billion (US$94 billion) and £99 billion (US$ 129 billion) each year 

But things are no better in the US. According to data from Aetna Behavioural Health, the amount of money that employers spend on trying to boost the mental health of their employees has been rising rapidly over recent years, with annual costs increasing twice as quickly as any other form of medical expense.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the impact of depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy a vast US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity. While such issues undoubtedly have a profound impact on individuals themselves though, there are also repercussions for employers in the shape of poor performance, increased staff turnover rates and a rise in unexplained absences.

But the stigma that regrettably continues to surround mental health issues means that employees often find it difficult to admit they are struggling with a problem, particularly to their superiors. Many feel that they need to hide their struggles from both managers and colleagues for fear that revealing the situation could have a negative impact on their job.

Tackling the stigma

Indeed, a survey of 1,500 managers revealed that 67% believe there is a stigma attached to experiencing stress, anxiety and other mental health issues in the workplace. As a result, they are dissuaded from seeking the support they require. 

Another issue is time. Many people simply find it difficult to put aside the time required to see a medical professional, a situation that is compounded by the fact that all too often therapists and counsellors are not available outside of working hours. As a result, far too many suffer in silence.

But it is worth noting that mental health is not just a medical issue. It also affects a workplace’s culture and productivity. While there may be a growing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, most employers are not proactive when it comes to encouraging discussion and creating an open workplace culture to help staff feel supported.

While creating such an environment is no easy task, developing a strategy to both try and negate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and provide effective treatment options for busy working professionals will help. Possible measures include designing and implementing a mental health support programme that is both visible and easily accessible to employees.

Providing mental health-related training to staff in general, and line managers and senior executives in particular, is another great way of encouraging change. Employing a top-down approach to stimulating conversation can help reduce common misconceptions about mental health and foster an open culture that makes it easier for employees to discuss their challenges without fear of reprisal.

To ensure these approaches are having a positive effect, it also makes sense to conduct regular staff surveys in order to build up data about the mental health of your team. Doing so will help to highlight any key problems they face so that targeted interventions can take place.

In other words, taking a proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing within the workplace is vital to both address employee concerns and provide the effective support many so desperately need.

Zain Sikafi

Dr Zain Sikafi is chief executive and co-founder of Mynurva, an online platform that provides customers with fast access to counselling and therapy from mental health practitioners. Having worked as a GP for several years, his aim is to improve access to mental health support.

 OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

The link between physical and mental health revealed

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Mental illness affects people from all walks of life. While some experience it in bouts, others suffer from prolonged, or even chronic, symptoms.

Certain factors can drastically elevate an individual’s risk though. For instance, working to tight deadlines in a high-pressure environment can be a significant cause of stress, which may aggravate an existing mental health problem or contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.

But the problem, it seems, is widespread. An independent report commissioned by the UK Prime Minister Theresa May entitled ‘Thriving for Work’, which was also backed by management consultancy Deloitte and mental health charity MIND, revealed that 15% of workers at any one time display symptoms of a mental health condition.

Meanwhile, a staggering 300,000 workers lose their jobs each year due to mental health problems. It is estimated that this lost productivity costs the UK economy between £72 billion (US$94 billion) and £99 billion (US$ 129 billion) each year 

But things are no better in the US. According to data from Aetna Behavioural Health, the amount of money that employers spend on trying to boost the mental health of their employees has been rising rapidly over recent years, with annual costs increasing twice as quickly as any other form of medical expense.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the impact of depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy a vast US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity. While such issues undoubtedly have a profound impact on individuals themselves though, there are also repercussions for employers in the shape of poor performance, increased staff turnover rates and a rise in unexplained absences.

But the stigma that regrettably continues to surround mental health issues means that employees often find it difficult to admit they are struggling with a problem, particularly to their superiors. Many feel that they need to hide their struggles from both managers and colleagues for fear that revealing the situation could have a negative impact on their job.

Tackling the stigma

Indeed, a survey of 1,500 managers revealed that 67% believe there is a stigma attached to experiencing stress, anxiety and other mental health issues in the workplace. As a result, they are dissuaded from seeking the support they require. 

Another issue is time. Many people simply find it difficult to put aside the time required to see a medical professional, a situation that is compounded by the fact that all too often therapists and counsellors are not available outside of working hours. As a result, far too many suffer in silence.

But it is worth noting that mental health is not just a medical issue. It also affects a workplace’s culture and productivity. While there may be a growing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, most employers are not proactive when it comes to encouraging discussion and creating an open workplace culture to help staff feel supported.

While creating such an environment is no easy task, developing a strategy to both try and negate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and provide effective treatment options for busy working professionals will help. Possible measures include designing and implementing a mental health support programme that is both visible and easily accessible to employees.

Providing mental health-related training to staff in general, and line managers and senior executives in particular, is another great way of encouraging change. Employing a top-down approach to stimulating conversation can help reduce common misconceptions about mental health and foster an open culture that makes it easier for employees to discuss their challenges without fear of reprisal.

To ensure these approaches are having a positive effect, it also makes sense to conduct regular staff surveys in order to build up data about the mental health of your team. Doing so will help to highlight any key problems they face so that targeted interventions can take place.

In other words, taking a proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing within the workplace is vital to both address employee concerns and provide the effective support many so desperately need.

Zain Sikafi

Dr Zain Sikafi is chief executive and co-founder of Mynurva, an online platform that provides customers with fast access to counselling and therapy from mental health practitioners. Having worked as a GP for several years, his aim is to improve access to mental health support.

 OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

The link between physical and mental health revealed

How to help improve your team's mental health

The secret to tackling workplace stress