Employers urged not to think of mental health as a minority issue

Employers urged not to think of mental health as a minority issue

Following the call yesterday by business leaders for the mandatory provision of mental first aiders at work, new research claims many more workers are affected by mental ill health than usual estimates. Instead of a perceived one in four people affected by mental health, according to the results of new research from Accenture, nine out of ten workers (90 percent) are touched by mental health challenges. Two-thirds (66 percent) have personally experienced mental health challenges and even more — 85 percent — say someone close to them such as a family member, close friend or colleague had experienced them. For three out of four people (76 percent), mental health challenges — either their own or those of others — had affected their ability to enjoy life, with 30 percent reporting they are ‘occasionally, rarely, or never’ able to enjoy and take part fully in everyday life. The findings come as the taboo that has long surrounded mental health starts to break down as 82 percent of respondents say they are more willing to speak openly about mental health issues now than they were just a few years ago.

However, the workplace still needs to made changes, as as only one in four respondents (27 percent) said they had seen any positive change in employees speaking openly about mental health in their organisations. Just one in five reported an improvement in workplace training to help manage their own mental health (20 percent) or to help them support colleagues dealing with mental health challenges (19 percent).

“We’re used to hearing that one in four people experience mental health challenges, yet our research shows that the number of people affected is in fact far higher,” said Barbara Harvey, a managing director at Accenture and mental health lead for the company’s business in the U.K. “It’s clear that mental health is not a minority issue; it touches almost all employees and can affect their ability to perform at work and live life to the fullest.

“It’s time for employers to think differently about how they support their employees’ mental wellbeing. It’s not only about spotting the signs of declining mental health and helping employees seek treatment when needed. Employers need to take a proactive approach by creating an open, supportive work environment that enables all their people to look after their mental health and support their colleagues. The payoff is a healthier, happier organization where people feel energized and inspired to perform at their best.”

Of those who had faced a mental health challenge, the majority (61 percent) had not spoken to anyone at work about their issue. Half (51 percent) of the survey respondents felt that raising a concern about their mental health might negatively affect their career or prevent them from being promoted, and 53 percent believed that opening up about a mental health challenge at work would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

Yet hiding mental health challenges at work had a negative impact on a majority of those surveyed. More than half (57 percent) reported at least one such impact, including feeling stressed, more alone, lacking confidence, being less productive, or simply ‘feeling worse’.

Among those who had talked to someone about mental health at work, four in five (81 percent) experienced a positive reaction of empathy or kindness. Overall, employees who reported that their organization has a supportive, open culture around mental health saw reductions in stress levels, a decrease in their feelings of isolation, and an increase in confidence. Forty-four percent said it was “a relief” to be able open up; nearly one-third (31 percent) said it helped them take positive steps towards getting help. In supportive cultures employees are more likely to know how to get help (89 percent versus 62 percent) and to find it easy to talk about mental health (86 percent versus 60 percent).

Employees in supportive companies are also more motivated than those in companies seen as not supportive; they are twice as likely to say they love their jobs (66 percent versus 31 percent) and more likely to plan to stay with their employer for at least the next year (94 percent versus 81 percent).

Accenture’s research will be revealed at This Can Happen, a conference dedicated to converting mental health awareness into action and making prevention a top priority for businesses across the U.K, taking place on 20 November in London.

“Despite the progress that’s been made, the stigma around talking about mental health persists”, said Neil Laybourn, mental health campaigner and co-founder of This Can Happen. “Accenture’s research shows that people continue to be fearful of opening up about mental health challenges at work, which exacerbates the issue and prevents them getting the help they need.”