How to Make It Ok to Talk About Mental Health in the Work Place

We are fortunate to live in a time when many companies are evolving in ways that promotes strategies and policies that encourages best practice in the work place. That said the nation is still incurring significant cost due to mental illness, without including sick pay.

  • 91 million working days lost and costs £30 billion each year, more than any other illness ACAS 2014
  • The total cost of mental health issues in England is estimated at 105.2 billion NHS England, 2016 

When employees go off sick leave, does their workload go away? Not, invariably someone else has to pick up the extra workload often until they themselves go off sick, referred to as the “domino effect”.

The risk of this can be reduced with certain measures such as engaging an agency worker however this will increase your overheads, and with less intimate knowledge of your clients and services productivity and service are likely to suffer.

Another interesting point is, once an employees has been absence through sickness for six weeks, the chances of them returning reduce by 10% for each week they remain off sick. Why is it so difficult for a long-term sick employee to return to work and why does it get harder the longer they are off? To answer this I will share some first hand experience with you. Five years ago while managing a department that became smaller due to cutbacks, workloads suddenly and dramatically increased.

As each week past the stress and pressure increased, I began working from home out of hours driven by with an overwhelming sense of dread that I would missed something important or fail to meet a deadline. It came to a head when my wife strongly suggested that I see a Doctor. However, despite my extensive mental health knowledge I could not bring myself to ask for help. It felt wrong so carried on regardless becoming increasingly depressed to the point of suicidal.

I was eventually signed off work with stress for 4 weeks! You might think, “Great he’s giving himself chance to recoup” whereas actually I became more isolated at home.  Left with only my own thoughts again, I had repetitive negative thoughts leading to feelings of failure and paranoia particularly about what my colleagues were saying and the weight of guilty for my colleagues having to pick up my work was unbearable.

I was determined to get back to work. When the time came for me to see the occupational health Psychiatrist, I put on my suit, shaved and made sure that I looked like a confident employee, fully recovered and ready to return to work. My attempts to mask my symptoms failed and my Psychiatrist refused to allow me to return, so there I was gain home alone.

After more weeks of support from my friends and friends, I was finally deemed well enough to return. It was then that the anxiety returned as negative thoughts of failure, paranoia and guilt returned.  It would be fair to say, “Walking through those doors was the one of the hardest things I have ever done”. I needn’t have worried, as I met two of my colleagues whilst passing through reception they said something that I will never ever forget, “ Hi Daran welcome back, we’ve missed you”.

Those words had such a profound effect on me that I teach them on my courses.  The two most powerful words a long-term sick employee can hear on return to work are “welcome back”. Hearing those words makes the person feel immediately relaxed accepted, while seeing the person’s response tells the rest of the “Everything’s going to be ok”.

What are employers doing already?

Some companies have been offering employees an Employee Assistance Programme providing emergency number for employees to call when they need it, and that’s a really good start. However, by the time they call this under it’s often too late to prevent the absence.  Prevention is way more effective than a cure and there is no substitute for early intervention.

What more can employers do?

  • Influence leaders with statistics showing the correlation between mental health issues and reduction in productivity and quality. Gaining their buy-in and support for seeing a change in attitudes towards mental health is crucial.
  • Identify the people in your business who can drive the change in attitudes to mental health within the business. Appointing them as your mental health champions in your fantastic way to get the message out there.
  • Train your Mental Health Champions to become Mental Health First Aiders with appropriate Mental Health Training so they become the go to person for managers when one of the team members raises a mental health concern.
  • Create safe spaces to encourage people to talk about mental health openly and overcome the stigma often associated with it.
  • Update your Health and Safety policy to include Mental Health you can visit the Health and Safety Executive website for guidelines.
  • Raise mental health awareness generally throughout the workplace with posters. Create an awareness of the Mental Health Champions (Mental Health First Aider) so they are identifiable with photos on the posters and badges to be worn by the Champions.
  • Increase management skills so they feel comfortable with their employees talking to them about mental health and make sure they know what steps to take i.e. referral to the Mental Health Champion (Mental Health First Aider).

If this resonates with you and you would like to see attitudes towards Mental Health improved in your work place we’d be delighted to hear from you. You can contact us by….

Our thanks to our Author Daran Bailey, Psychotherapist and Mental Health Trainer.

Daran is a Gold Standard Mental Health First Aid Trainer, Mindfulness Coach and Mental Wellbeing in The Workplace Coach. He has multiple years of experience gained through Commissioning mental health services and through his private practice as a Psychotherapist. His work has led to many achievements and awards, most notably an award given at the House of Lords for his work with young people and improving Mental Wellbeing in the Work Place. Daran has trained over 1500 people.