On the surface many of us look like we’re swimming along nicely at work, nailing slick PowerPoint presentations, meeting targets and having a friendly chat with colleagues over tea, but there’s one topic we’re still not discussing for fear of stigma, or worse, actually being fired. Despite the current open dialogue surrounding mental health , a recent survey of 2000 workers carried out by the Mental Health Foundation found that one in three of us wouldn’t discuss mental health at work, for fear of being excluded or sacked, and one in four worry about the harassment that might ensue should they disclose details of a mental issue.
Although anger-making, it’s possibly not surprising that mental health sufferers feel so vulnerable when it comes to highlighting mental health problems- researchers found that one in five of us have witnessed terms linked to mental health being used in a derogatory, insulting way at work, while 11 per cent have been victims of abuse in the workplace on account of suffering from a mental health issue. 18-24 year olds fare the worst in terms of concern about facing discrimination at work, but given that 40 per cent of respondents reported that their current workplace culture wouldn’t allow them to be candid about mental health, this is clearly a widespread issue, and one that needs turning on its head, and fast, as Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation Jenny Edwards CBE emphasises:
“We are asking people to talk about mental health, but this must be matched with an ability to listen compassionately and act appropriately.
"We still hear examples of mental ill-health being used as a form of casual insult. This creates a culture where people don’t feel able to talk about their mental health at work or reach out for support when they need it."
A lack of resources is also where many employers’ fall short when considering mental health at work: a quarter of managers believed that their workplace didn’t have an established procedure to follow in terms of mental health issues, and 52 per cent believed that their company could make vast improvements to both systems and attitudes to take mental health sufferers more seriously. As proof, 62 per cent reported that taking time off due to physical illness or injury was taken more seriously than leave related to mental health. Clearly, despite the silence, many of us are willing this to change, given that two thirds of us want annual leave allowance to account for our mental health, with the addition of mental health days to safeguard our wellbeing. Add to this the fact that those with mental health problems contribute on average £225 billion to the economy each year, and it’s high time that employers, HR departments and workplaces as a whole put mental health at the top of their agenda, both in terms of policy and ethos. They quite literally can’t afford not to.