HR Blog | 9 October 2015

Mental health, can you afford to ignore it?

Mind support

Chances are that you will have at least one person with a diagnosable mental health issue in your company. 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, according to the office for national statistics. This number may surprise some people because mental health still has a stigma attached to it and so it often goes un-noticed and it’s not a topic often talked about. With world mental health day on the 10th October every year awareness of mental illness is rising and stigma falling but why is this an important issue for employers to put time and resources towards supporting those with mental illness?

As an HR professional you probably have a good understanding of how important being able to provide help and support is. However it can be a bit of a struggle to relay the importance of creating and implementing a support network to a CFO, CEO or board room in general. With mounting pressure from charities such as “MIND” and “Rethink mental illness” and people like Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief medical officer for England, it’s becoming hard to ignore. Some of the statistics raised by Professor Dame Sally Davies in “annual report of the chief medical officer 2013”  will make for interesting reading to a board room and helps highlight the potential mental health can have towards a company. Cherry picked out are a few of the key ones – the full report can be found here.

  • Mental illness costs the UK economy £70-100 billion per year
  • Mental illness is the leading cause of sickness and absence in the uk – it accounted for 70 million sick days in 2007
  • Since 2009 the number of working days lost to stress depression and anxiety has increased by 24%; the number lost to serious mental illness has doubled

Many offices provide support for a wide range of medical problems such as back pain and repetitive strain injuries, the solutions range from better chairs to work station assessments and ergonomically designed computer mice and keyboards. There is no reason why some level support network for those with mental health issues shouldn’t be as common place and available as other work place health directives especially after knowing the potential economic costs. What the directives look like is another matter and will very much be dependent on the size of the organization and the level of training and expertise people within the company have. Never the less company’s leading the way should be lauded for their efforts, and they are seeing the benefits filter through in astonishingly short time frames.

One clear example of how mental health can start to be tackled can be found at Mars. At the end of 2011 Mars implemented a programme in their UK sales team to tackle the increasing mental health related issues that were being seen nationwide.  Over a 12 month period they saw absence due to mental health reduced to almost 0 and the people taking part reported a better ability to cope with change and stress in their job. On top of this the programme participants reported that they felt they had better productivity. Since the success of the programme in 2011 they have expanded it beyond the original group and offer programmes aimed at tackling mental health internationally. Hopefully the work of charities and the government along with the great examples set by companies like Mars will help mental health support programmes become common office features.