A heads up on mental health

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There has been an increasing and welcome focus on mental health issues over the past year. The most prominent campaign has perhaps been ‘Heads Together’ spearheaded by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Through its #oktosay social media campaign and range of high profile events, it is encouraging the stigma surrounding mental health issues to be broken down.

When you consider that one in four of us will suffer some sort of mental health problem each year, it’s a concern that many people may be struggling with mental health issues while trying to hold down a job and keep that fact hidden. In fact, the mental health charity Mind has found that one in four employees with mental health issues label work as the cause.


The good news is that we are seeing more and more businesses putting dedicated time, resources and investment into creating a working environment where the mental health of employees is supported, using the assistance services now available to employers and employees. The fact that this is becoming a key priority for many firms, should be applauded as sadly, there’s no shortage of data demonstrating how much this approach is needed.

An Office of National Statistics (ONS) analysis commissioned by Public Health England and published last March shows that suicides are more common among men than women, with the rate also varying considerably by occupation. Between 2011 and 2015, workers employed in skilled construction and building trades were found to have had the most suicides, followed by elementary administration and service occupations. 

The ONS findings reflect research by the specialist charity for the construction industry Mates in Mind, a programme supported by the British Safety Council, which has revealed that in the UK one in six workers is currently experiencing depression, anxiety or stress. Mates in Mind also recently revealed that suicide kills more construction workers than workplace accidents.

Mental health problems tend not to come on suddenly and may give rise to regular periods of sickness absence from work, depending on the root problem and access to treatment. Our own analysis at ECIS of sick pay claims for the contracting industry shows that mental health issues are now one of the top three reasons for employee absence (13%), after musculoskeletal conditions (48%) and general sickness, colds and bugs (15%). So, in essence, time off for mental health problems is almost as common as sick leave for colds and bugs.

All these stark facts reinforce why the contracting sector is starting to take a much more proactive approach to the mental wellbeing of workers.  Employers are not only taking an active role in promoting mental health and wellbeing, they are putting early intervention services in place so that if employees need professional support it’s there. For example, ECIS offers a direct access service for mental health problems allowing members to access treatment without needing to see a GP, along with an Employee Assistance Programme, which provides confidential 24/7 telephone support.

Feedback from the sector suggests its increased focus on general employee wellbeing is being recognised and valued. In a survey we recently conducted, 80% of contractors said they actively encourage a healthy lifestyle among employees and 86% of workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a health issue that may impact their work. This is immensely positive and shows how much business culture is changing.

There’s no doubt the stigma of mental health issues is being broken down, and access to early intervention services can play a key role in supporting employees suffering from mental health problems. By helping them to get the right support, advice and treatment at the earliest opportunity, the road to recovery should be a short one.

More info on Mates in Mind at: matesinmind.org

Vicki Leslie is client relationship manager at ECIS


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