Employers have a big role to play in reducing the stigma around mental health because for too long people have been reluctant to talk about mental health in the workplace. This stigma typically arises from fear and ignorance rather than ill will; people often find it easier to avoid the issue, rather than start a conversation. However, if people who are experiencing the early symptoms of mental ill health feel able to talk about them, particularly in the workplace, it helps prevent the problem escalating into a full-blown illness.
So what can employers do? A focus on line management training is the first step to take in addressing mental health stigma and is one of the key recommendations made by Business in the Community in the Mental health at work report, published in October 2016. If someone experiencing a mental health issue has a line manager who is skilled in talking about mental health and knows what support to provide or signpost people to, that employee will feel better supported and is more likely to be able to continue working successfully. Line managers are ideally placed to create a climate that is conducive to the wellbeing of their team and to spot changes in behaviour or performance that could indicate an underlying mental health issue.
I believe employers, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure that their line managers are upskilled to understand and manage the mental and emotional health of their teams, and this is something we are seeing happening more and more in businesses all over the country. Overall, we spend around one third of our lives in the workplace, so ensuring that we have office cultures that are open and supportive in terms of managing employees’ mental health should be a priority for all organisations.
Poppy Jaman is chief executive officer of the City Mental Health Alliance and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England