Opinion

Why you should talk about mental health at work

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As World Mental Health Awareness Day (10 October) approaches, it has never been more important that we all work together to eradicate the stigma and silence around mental health in the workplace, and vitally, that we start the conversation.


Mental health champion

On Wednesday 13 September 2023, Prince William visited a construction site in west London where he met with Mates in Mind, Mace and representatives from across the construction industry, including an SME Mates in Mind Supporter, to discuss the prevalence of suicide in the industry, and highlight the crucial need to focus on prevention, rather than crisis management, when it comes to mental health support.

Prince William has been committed to supporting men’s mental health and suicide prevention for many years. Through his work, His Royal Highness has aimed to highlight and champion the importance of tackling this vital issue. We were truly honoured to host the visit from the Prince of Wales.

Prince William visited a construction site in west London where he met with Mates in Mind, Mace and representatives from across the construction industry. Photograph: Anthony Charlton / In Press Photography

As a charity we aim to ensure that no one experiences mental ill-health through their work. Therefore, it was a wonderful opportunity during this visit to be able to raise awareness of mental health, to start conversations about the issues and contributory factors faced at all levels within construction, the impact that arises, and continue eradicating the stigma of mental ill-health and the barriers that surround it.

This article explains why mental wellbeing is a vital issue, and how employers can become part of the community that is driving forward change across workplaces.

Why it is important to start the conversation

Research demonstrates that:

Sarah Meek: "There is a bigger human cost from not taking action."

For those working in the construction, transport and logistics sectors, including associated trades and businesses, the rates of mental ill-health are even more shocking:

  • A third of construction workers live with severe levels of anxiety
  • In 2021, there were 6,319 suicides registered in the UK, of which 507 were in construction alone, where the rate is nearly four times higher than in other sectors
  • Drivers of forklift trucks had a suicide rate 85 per cent higher than the national average.

This demonstrates that there is a human cost to mental ill-health, and tragically that employees do not always feel comfortable discussing it with their employer. Recent research found that 39 per cent of respondents felt they would be judged negatively if they opened up about their mental health.

This is why it is time we address mental health together; removing the stigma that surrounds it and the barriers to starting an early conversation.

What is the cost?

Obviously, there will be a financial cost to providing support, but more importantly, as the research above demonstrates, there is a bigger human cost from NOT taking action. However, through creating an open and supportive culture, good mental wellbeing has positive impacts on everyone – for example, on people’s confidence, purpose, achievements, positive relationships and inclusion, plus a reduction in sickness and staff turnover.

From a business perspective it is important to note that employers are under a legal duty to assess the risk of workplace stress for their workers and to take appropriate action to ensure their wellbeing (HSE). But there are also financial benefits to improving employee mental wellbeing – for example, on average businesses achieve a £5 return for every £1 spent on wellbeing support.

How to start the conversation

We know that many organisations have started to tackle mental health across their workplaces; however, there is still too much variation and inconsistency, which is why we need to think differently. Working together we can make the difference to stop people becoming unwell through their work.

How to help identify if a colleague needs support. Infographic: Mates in Mind

This is why, at Mates in Mind, we advocate for:

  • A proactive, prevention strategy – empowering employers and employees with the guidance, skills, resources and confidence to change their workplace culture and both identify and address contributory risks.
  • A holistic strategy – rather than focusing on a tick box approach to mental health or prioritising crisis support at the point of need – we educate, train and support employers and their employees across the whole workforce to ensure there is a continuous and comprehensive solution in place so that no one reaches crisis point and mental health awareness becomes everyone’s issue. We need to ensure every conversation counts.
  • Removing the stigma – too many people are afraid to talk about mental health at work. An open and supportive workplace culture with proactive steps to support people early can overcome that.

Every organisation is different and so there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution; however, when you start your journey with Mates in Mind we work together to:

  • Assess where you are now and recognise any work to date
  • Create a vision of where you want to be
  • Develop a plan to achieve that vision
  • Share best practice and success seen elsewhere among our Supporters
  • Educate, inform and communicate with the whole workforce
  • Be open and listen to your employees
  • Re-assess and further develop your provision.

This is where Mates in Mind can help, by working through the above steps with you. You can find out about becoming a Supporter on our website. As a Supporter you also have access to resource packs, posters and toolkits to help you raise awareness – for example, of World Mental Health Day, with both your internal teams and your networks.

If you would like to find out more about how to start the conversation within your organisation, we have a number of free resources (including the infographic above which helps identify if a colleague needs support) available on our website.

Where to find support

Our aim is to ensure that no one reaches crisis point; however, we recognise that people might not always feel comfortable starting a conversation when they are ready. If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can speak to one of the many free, confidential support services listed on our website, including our free, confidential text service with our Partners at Shout, which is available 24/7. Text ‘BeAMate’ to 85258.

Remember, you are not alone, there is always someone to talk to.

Sarah Meek is managing director of Mates in Mind, a charity which aims to provide clear information to employers about the available support and guidance on mental health and wellbeing, and how they can address this within their organisations. For more information see:
matesinmind.org

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