The number of reported mental health problems remains worryingly high – how can you best support your employees?

The number of reported mental health problems remains worryingly high – how can you best support your employees?

Since 2009 we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of reported mental health problems. Two-fifths of employers in this year’s Absence Management Survey, which we run in partnership with Simplyhealth, said they’d seen an increase in mental health issues reported by staff. This compares to 21% in 2009. And overall it’s estimated that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives.  But how often do you hear it addressed in the workplace?

Whether we experience problems personally, or are supporting someone else, having increased awareness helps to understand the challenges and needs of both the individual and those supporting them. Employers need to look at how they can create a culture where people feel able to raise issues, as well as provide support for those who need it. We need to find a way to make employee mental health a priority in organisations, alongside physical health.

It’s clear that despite the rise in UK employment and the green shoots of economic recovery, mental health awareness and support still needs to be a priority. The high figures revealed in the survey could be due in part to the fact that we are getting better at talking about mental health, and I think we are, but the rise is also due to people being under pressure in their work and home lives, in some cases for a number of years now.

What’s become really clear through my research is that providing support when a problem has been identified is essential, but that’s not enough to really make an impact and increase the well-being of your workforce. What will make a lasting difference is getting to the grassroots issues of work-related issues, and increasing awareness of the importance of good mental health throughout the organisation. This includes advice on how to stay mentally healthy and resilient to deal with challenging and pressurised situations as well as helping managers and colleagues spot early warning signs of a problem in themselves or others. Taking action early on in many cases can stop the problem becoming a big hurdle, but just one third of employers told us they are increasing awareness across the workforce.

So what more can employers do?

The first thing to look at is whether your well-being programme addresses mental health as well as physical health? For example, are we putting enough store by the importance of work-life balance and creating a culture where people feel able to flag when there is a problem, as well as promoting physical health checks and nutrition? How equipped do managers feel to have conversations about mental health? Do they know what the organisation offers by way of support and how to signpost people to it?

Are there particular areas of your organisation or job roles with a higher rate of reported mental health problems? To what extent are the underlying causes understood? What work-related issues may be affecting people and how can these be addressed?

Together with the mental health charity MIND, the CIPD have developed some resources for employers, including practical advice for managers. These can be found on the CIPD website as well as an interesting case study about Unilever, explaining how they are now managing mental health with the same openness and priority as they manage physical health, to provide a holistic view of employee health & wellbeing.

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