How better mental health practices can improve your business

Firms shouldn't think twice about investing in high-quality mental health training, says Lottie Galvin

Mental health is something that we all have (just as we have physical health). It’s a part of being human and it’s finally becoming less of a taboo after being buried by society for far too long.

It’s great to see that we are now part of a society that has a much keener focus on mental health, which is inspiring more honest conversations between people. But why isn’t more being done to address the impact that mental health – good and poor – has in the workplace?

Many have already taken steps towards acknowledging mental health in their organisation, as well as raising awareness on how to cope with any pressing issues, through the means of company policies, HR teams, and supportive management. However, there is much more that can be done to instill better mental health practices within the UK workforce. A big (yet simple) first step can be taken by introducing mandatory mental health training into your workplace.

A common problem

There are some industries in the UK that are more at risk of workplace-induced mental ill-health. One of these sectors is education. Often overworked and under-supported, teachers are faced with relentless challenges; including the education and safeguarding of their students, lesson planning, marking, long working days and meeting the high standards set by governing bodies. When we stop to think about it, it’s no surprise that the stress created by this has a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.

Last year, The Independent reported that over half of the teachers that took part in a survey had been diagnosed with a mental illness. The results of another 2018 survey were equally concerning. The figures showed that a total of 1.3 million sick days were taken by teachers in the past four years, as a result of poor mental health – including stress, anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave due to work pressures and mental illness.

Mental ill-health is also a common problem in the construction sector. As a predominantly male industry, construction’s ‘macho-culture’ can make it very difficult for men to speak up and ask for help; even when they desperately need it. Poor mental health in this sector was the cause of over 1,400 suicides during a five-year period.

The main contributions to this devastating statistic include heavy workloads, long working hours, carrying out high-risk tasks, the lack of routine, frequent travelling, being separated from family, and working in isolation. As construction workers are also contract-based, anxiety can be triggered by a lack of job security or steady paycheck, tight deadlines and restrictive budgeting costs.

A 2017 survey by CN’s Mind Matters revealed that 55 per cent of construction workers had experienced poor mental health, with 82 per cent admitting that there is a taboo surrounding mental ill-health in construction. Many of those who have suffered in the past now admit they had done so in silence.

The care industry is another sector that urgently needs to improve the mental health of its workers across the UK. Being a carer is an immensely challenging job, both physically and emotionally. 84 per cent of carers report that they feel stressed, 78 per cent suffer from anxiety, and 55 per cent report that they have suffered from depression as a result of their work

Whether it’s due to being overworked, underpaid, or overwhelmed by the responsibility – or exposure to sickness and death – that commonly comes with the job, care workers operate in an extremely stressful environment. The heartbreaking reality is that the care sector has a suicide rate that’s almost twice as high as the national average.

It’s crucial for employers to implement frameworks and procedures that will protect the wellbeing of their employees. If these statistics don’t improve (and quickly), can we expect people to continue pursuing careers in this industry? The likes of which we all rely on. What do any of us have, without our good mental and physical health?

Enforcing positive change: the power of training

Over 15 million working days are lost in the UK each year due to poor mental health and it costs the UK economy an estimated £94 billion annually. This makes mental health training far more than just a nice gesture – it makes it fundamental for the productivity of every employee, as well as the prosperity of every business. Investing in employee wellbeing is certainly justified.

Mental health training may not provide all the answers, but it does offer a much-needed change of perspective. It has the power to transform an organisation by improving each employee’s mindset and empowering them to take control of their mental health both at work and outside of it. 

Business owners should take an honest look at how they are treating their staff and the impact that this treatment may be having. Are the workloads achievable? Do employees get the support and encouragement that they need? Is management aware of strained working relationships or any workplace bullying or harassment? Employers need to have a genuine understanding of how crucial good mental health is, and how far their positive and proactive approach will filter through the whole organisation.

Ultimately, high-quality training shares the truth – that an open and supportive culture is a key ingredient to a successful business. Organisations are one step ahead if they encourage their employees to talk about how they feel and create an environment where guidance, solutions and appropriate confidentiality are offered. This extends to making sure that those in leadership roles are trained to identify signs of mental ill-health and are equipped with guidance on how to handle these situations.

One organisation that is paving the way for positive change is WHSmith. The company has around 1,100 line managers trained as mental health first aiders at a cost of around £250,000. This means they have as many employees trained in mental health first aid as they do physical first aid.

By breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health and ensuring that it is spoken about openly and without judgement, individuals and businesses alike will reap huge rewards now and in the long run. So much so, that for every £1 an organisation invests in their employees’ mental health and wellbeing, they can expect to see an average of £4.20 in return. I know! It’s a fact.

Lottie Galvin is mental health first aider at iHASCO