Mental Health – You Own It! Or Do You?

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

Mental Health: You Own It, Or Do You?

2017 saw the publication of Thriving at work: The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers and, with it, the staggering estimate that the annual cost of poor mental health to the economy as a whole in the UK is between £74B and £99B.

That’s more than £1,200 per capita, around 4% of GDP, twice the spend on defence and very close to public expenditure on education (c£100B). It is a staggering cost to the economy.

The report itself is excellent and an easy read with lots of advice and resources for employees and employers alike. As a Health and Safety professional (which I’m assuming you are) you should most definitely read it because not only is mental health already a major issue but it likely will dominate the health and safety profession over time.

This is not a post with answers. More, it’s a post with questions and the start of a series of posts throughout this year looking to address mental health in greater detail.

On reading the Stevenson/Farmer report, a couple of things struck me beyond the positive comments made above. Firstly, the report doesn’t address root cause issues in depth (only positive actions to deal with poor mental health) and, secondly, a quote from Sir Simon Wessely, past President of The Royal College of Psychiatrists who said, “You own it!”, placing the onus on employers to create a positive and supportive workplace culture, free from stigma.

While we all would agree that employers have a major role to play in supporting employees with poor mental health (for their own benefit as well as that of the employee), without an in-depth root cause analysis of mental health issues, that quote may be placing too much of the burden on employers and, potentially, not enough on the employee or, more broadly, the society we live in.

This is a very complex issue and the sentiment in that last paragraph may appear overly simplistic. But it’s worth asking the question and trying to determine whether mental health is something we’re ‘managing’ or whether there’s something we can do better as a society (outside of the work environment) to reduce the number of people suffering from poor mental health. These are themes we’ll continue to explore throughout the year.

We looked at work-related stress from the point of view of the health and safety professional in August of last year and followed up with a webinar on the topic. This discussion placed the health and safety professional at the intersection of corporate governance, continually improving safety processes and workforce participation. Potentially an extremely stressful place to be without the support, funding and leadership of the board; and without which workforce resistance to new health and safety practices can breed resulting in the general view that new safety processes are getting in the way of employees doing their jobs.

In terms of the broader population (of employees), potential causes of poor mental health include:

  • Demands of the job (long hours, time pressures, insecurity and the pressure to deliver results) which can lead to us ignoring the very processes put in place to keep us safe (leading to more stress and anxiety)
  • Simply getting to work (cost, time and the stress and anxiety arising from both)
  • Having to go to work and not being afforded the opportunity to work flexibly
  • Even where it is an option, working from home comes with its own challenges to set alongside the benefits. We covered the potential issues arising from lack of social intercourse, poor communication etc. in our post Best Practice Working from Home in November.

These are all work related but then we need to also explore the changes in society that have led to poor mental health including, but not limited to:

  • General life insecurity. Who’s looking out for us? What happened to the trust and cooperation between the establishment and the people? Simon Sinek describes this broken social contract from a business perspective in this short video but it applies equally to society as a whole
  • Pension crisis
  • Cost of education
  • Cost of living
  • The NHS
  • Interest-only mortgages. Remember them? There must be a lot of those maturing soon
  • etc.

All of these are factors that can lead to poor mental health and which are then likely to impact our ability to perform at work, or may keep us from work altogether.

We have more questions than answers at present but we plan to keep researching throughout the year and highlighting those making great progress in and around this extremely important topic.

If you have specific mental health areas you would like us to look at over the next few months then please leave a comment to this post (public, below) or via our contact page (private).

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