Many people experiencing stress or depression at work feel that they cannot talk about it to their employer, a recent survey found. That has to change.
It has been said so often that it has become a cliché: mental health is the last workplace taboo. While this is arguable – I can think of several other taboos – there is a valid point: for many of those experiencing mental ill health, the last people they want to tell are their bosses or colleagues.
For example, mental health charityMind’s recent survey of more than 2,000 workers found that 45% said they are expected to cope without mentioning stress at work, and 31% said they would not be able to talk openly to their line manager if they felt stressed.
That’s a significant minority of workers who are suffering in silence. It is not going to help their immediate mental wellbeing if they have to try and carry on as normal when, inside, they feel anything but. And, it could also lead to their mental ill health becoming more acute in the future.
This is a widespread issue: 1 in 10 employees – some 34 million in Europe – are at risk of taking time off work due to depression every year, according to Target Depression in the Workplace.
It is sad that people still feel they can’t speak out, but in some ways understandable. Some workplaces, for example, those that are sales-driven, are competitive and any sign of weakness – which mental illness is still (wrongly) often seen as – is jumped upon by others.
Stigma is also still a concern in some workplaces. Ignorance of mental health issues remains quite common in society, despite the efforts of groups like Time to Change , and this extends to the workplace. Newspaper headlines such as The Sun’s recent ‘1,200 killed by mental patients’ do not help either because they reinforces the perceived link between mental illness and violence, and will discourage people from speaking up because they may fear they will be tarred with that same brush.
Of course, there are many employers who take workplace mental health very seriously, such as those involved in the previously-mentioned Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, which includes major employers such as BT, and aims to drive best practice in workplace mental health policies and disseminate it as widely as possible.
It also plans to provide tools and resources to benefit companies, not just in Europe but worldwide, to alleviate the personal and economic burden of depression, according to Bill Wilkerson, executive chairman of Mental Health International and Target Depression in the Workplace chair.
Initiatives such as this are important in spreading best practice, but their messages must get through to businesses of all sizes. Mental health cannot be neglected in the workplace and implementing measures to help people experiencing stress or depression do not have to be complex or expensive. But, to do this, managers need to have the tools and knowledge to support their staff, so training is very important.
Businesses need to set aside time and money to ensure that this happens. The point should also be forcefully made that this is not a cost, but an investment: the outlay could help managers support staff who are experiencing stress or depression. That could include ensuring they get any help they may need in a timely manner which, in turn, could result in them having less time off and being more productive, in the longer run.
But, more importantly, it is the duty of every employer, on a human level, to look after the wellbeing of their employees – the most crucial part of any business.