Dan Parton (1/5/12) says it's important to look beyond the numbers when considering mental health at work:

Mental health problems are estimated to cost the British economy more than £30 billion per year in lost hours and reduced productivity. But there are initiatives to try to bring this figure down.

While I treat statistics like this with some scepticism – you wonder how, exactly, these figures are arrived at – there is no doubt that mental health problems cost the economy a great deal in terms of lost hours and productivity. Nobody works at their best when they are ill – whether physically or mentally – and many people need time off to recover, which can have cost implications for both employers and employees.

You might therefore think that employers would be proactive in ensuring the health of their employees. And while there are some out there who are understanding, and do look after the mental health of their employees, apparently there are many that do not – or at least, they don’t do enough. Employment body Acas recently referred to mental health at work as being “the last taboo in business” and has launched ‘Mental health: we need to talk’, a guide aimed at encouraging employers to deal with the issue.

Acas' guide gives step-by-step advice on how employers and managers can raise awareness of mental health issues, create a culture where issues can be talked about and help the employee to recover from their difficulties. This is welcome, but you wouldn’t expect Acas to produce literature like this if someone had, for example, heart problems. It shows that mental ill-health is, in general, still not viewed as seriously as physical ill-health.

So Acas is right that mental health is still often a taboo issue in workplaces. I’ve heard many examples in recent years where people have admitted to an employer that they have a mental health problem and it has caused them all sorts of difficulties in their workplace – even leading to their dismissal, in some cases. That’s just plain wrong, of course, but it demonstrates, albeit anecdotally – some of the stigma – and over-reaction to mental health problems – that still exists in some workplaces. Breaking down this underlying stigma will take years, which is why initiatives such as this, as well as wider campaigns such as Time to Change, are important, because they can make a difference. Acas’ guide may only change things in a relatively few workplaces, but it is nevertheless worthwhile – because it will ensure more people with mental health problems get the help and support they may need.

While improving the bottom line is important for employers, so too is the health of their employees, as I’m sure everyone would agree….