Mental health awareness in the workplace

With the ever-growing and much needed focus on the importance of bringing mental health issues into day-to-day conversations rather than shying away from the subject, I – like many of us – have become acutely aware of the relationship between the workplace and mental health.

While a lot has already been done to raise awareness across the insurance industry of this important issue in the working environment, there’s still a long way to go.

I decided to dig into the issue further and my research three up some alarming statistics.  In financial terms, mental health issues cost UK employers up to £42 billion per year which includes £8 billion in sickness absence and £1 billion of sickness absence to the self employed.  Although that in itself is concerning, a staggering 31% of the UK workforce has been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue but only a third of these people felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager.

I was quite honestly dumbfounded at this stat.  It caused me to stop, look objectively at myself as a manager in the workplace and question whether I had the necessary skills to assist a team member, a peer or a colleague if they needed support.

There clearly still is a stigma around mental health conditions.  In my view the only way to challenge this is to discuss the whole issue more openly and honestly – and in the workplace, this starts at the top.

Having got in touch with an organisation call Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) to find out what my organisation could do to increase awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and improve the skills of our people to support their colleagues, I took my findings to the senior team at QuestGates who immediately bought into my proposals.

We initially arranged training across our key regions for a number of individuals to become Mental Health First Aiders.  This initiative was well communicated across the company both online and face to face.  The key message was simple; there is no difference between going to the traditional First Aider or the Mental Health First Aider if you need help or support.  Of course the Mental Health First Aiders are not medically qualified in mental health however, thanks to the training, they have more awareness and are better equipped to offer support. Whether people choose to go to them or not the message at QuestGates is clear – we acknowledge, understand and support your mental health.

This was such a success that the company agreed to go a step further and support additional training specifically for line managers – from trainee managers through to directors – helping them get over any fear or hesitation to communicate with individuals and ascertain their specific needs.  Not every physical condition is managed the same so why would we manage every mental health condition the same?

We’ve just completed the training and feedback has been hugely really positive.  Many of the attendees said it was beneficial to them personally and perhaps this highlights the key to getting on top of the whole issue of mental health in the workplace – be aware of your own mental health and then be in a position to support others.

And we’re not stopping here.  We are developing communication plans to ensure we continue to keep the issue front and centre across the company, for example supporting World Mental Health Day and encouraging the “Take 10 Together” to get people talking.

By Jo Birchall – Head of Concierge, QuestGates