Providing the training and tools to support mental health can enhance staff wellbeing, motivation and engagement, says Kirsty Jagielko, head of marketing at Cigna UK Healthcare Benefits
Supporting employee mental health is a growing challenge for many employers. Around 70 million working days were lost to mental illness in 2013 at a cost of £70 – £100bn to the UK economy, according to the Annual report of the chief medical officer, published in September 2014. Issues like anxiety, depression and stress are leading to lost work days, high staff turnover and lower productivity. Many employers believe they do not have the skills or knowledge to identify when an employee is suffering from mental health issues.
A survey for anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, conducted in July-August 2009, found that 56% of organisations would not employ an individual who had depression even if they were the most suitable candidate. The same percentage also said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but do not feel they have the right training or guidance, according to research by Mind. Although many employers understand the benefits of a healthy workforce, it is clear that more needs to be done to create awareness of mental health and promote a healthy business culture.
There is a range of mental health conditions that will affect many people at some time in their lives: the most common are anxiety, mood and stress disorders. Individuals with anxiety disorders react to certain situations with fear or dread, as well as physical signs of anxiety or panic such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. Common mood disorders include bipolar and depression. Depression involves persistent feelings of sadness and bipolar is a combination of mania and depression, alternating in cycles. Common stress disorders involve distortion of awareness and thinking.
Options for support
Thankfully, there are a number of options that can help support employees. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that helps people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. CBT is most effective for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem. Cigna recently introduced a Healthy Mind pathway that allows members to bypass their GP and refer themselves directly to a cognitive behavioural therapist. Many employers now recognise the benefits of online self-help tools that are based on CBT techniques. These tools are suitable for those with mild to moderate stress, anxiety and depression. Other resources can include employee assistance programmes or helplines.
The UK is still in the aftermath of an economic recession and with employees working longer hours than ever before, according to the Labour market statistics, published by the Office for National Statistics in October 2015, mental health issues among the workforce are prevalent. In the last five years, more than 13 million people within the UK have taken time off due to workplace stress.
Happy and healthy employees are the driving force behind every successful business. But if employers don’t provide their staff with the right training, support and tools, absenteeism is likely to become a growing concern.
Although there is a range of solutions and therapies available, early intervention is best. Managers need appropriate training so they can spot the possible signs of mental illness. Some symptoms can include confused thinking or extreme worry. Not only should managers have an awareness of symptoms, they should also be able to empathise with their staff and refer them to available tools and resources.
Creating a culture of health is vital to an organisation’s success. Employees who feel that the employer they work for cares about their overall health and wellbeing are more likely to be motivated, engaged and are less likely to leave. Educating employees to ensure they are comfortable accessing self-help tools or calling helplines is also vital.
There is still a stigma attached to mental illnesses and we need to tackle current attitudes. Mental illnesses can be addressed with the right treatment, support and education. Healthier people drive healthier businesses. Supporting and engaging employees with their mental and wider health is essential.