DanPartonThe effects of mental ill health cost UK businesses billions every year, yet for many employers it is still an issue that is not a priority – and Dan Parton says that needs to change fast:  

Across Europe, depression is said to cost workplaces £77 billion annually, with the greatest economic loss coming through absenteeism and lost productivity, according to a recent report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and King’s College London.

The scale of the issue was also highlighted in a survey published by the Depression Alliance in April, which found that a third of people struggle to cope at work because of depression, stress or burn out, with 83% of those affected experiencing isolation or loneliness as a result.

While only half of those feeling lonely or isolated had confided in a colleague, of those that did nearly three quarters (71%) found it helped them feel better. This highlighted the need for employers to take action to better recognise the condition and support affected staff.

With statistics like these, the argument for addressing mental ill health is compelling, especially in terms of the cost – human and financial. For business owners, the bottom line is key and while many seek to be socially responsible, unless they make a profit there is no business. So if there is something that is having an adverse impact on the bottom line that can be addressed, you’d think they would? But if that something is depression, this is not always the case, it seems.

The reasons why employers still don’t address mental health issues are varied. Stigma still plays a part, as the LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp admitted earlier in the year: “Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately."

Other reasons include the perceived cost – time and monetary – of putting in place measures to support employees with mental health problems. Although there are many things employers can do cheaply to help improve employees’ mental health.

That said, times are changing and increasing numbers of employers are taking mental health seriously. For example, the City Mental Health Alliance, which was launched last year, is a coalition of City of London-based businesses – including KPMG, Deloitte and Bank of America – that aims to break down the stigma attached to mental health and create a culture where mental wellbeing is nurtured as part of good business practice.

Other businesses are following suit, but there is more that can be done. This is why Mental Health Today is launching a campaign to highlight the concerns around mental health in the workplace and why it should be a higher priority for businesses. We kick this off with a feature looking at the issue in depth, and this will be followed up in forthcoming magazine and on our website. People are a business’ greatest asset, and employers should do everything to ensure their employees can perform at their peak – including helping them to deal with any mental health condition they are experiencing.