How can we build a mentally healthy workplace?


Figures released today highlight the growing need to address mental health in the workplace.

According to the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report on public mental health priorities, in 2013 mental illness led to the loss of 70 million working days in the UK, this is a significant increase of 24% since 2009. Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence highlights 14 recommendations to improve public mental health services, including a recommendation allowing those with mental health problems to be given the option of flexible working in order to keep them in employment and maintain regular contact during sickness leave. 

How far do we understand the extent of mental illness?

Via our @PrioryGroup Twitter account, we recently asked our followers:

”Have you ever had to call in sick because of a mental health condition (e.g. depression, stress, anxiety) but told your work you were suffering from something else? If so, why did you make up another illness?”

The responses we received were overwhelmingly negative and brought to light a level of miscomprehension towards what mental illness really is, as shown by this particular response:

“I have anxiety, but people either decide that I’m “crazy” or that I’m a bit nervous about something. They do not understand, or try to understand, the condition. I have had employers think that this means I can’t do my job, despite doing it fine when they didn’t know.”

Recent research from Priory Group found that over 79% of the people we spoke to without a mental health condition worried that they wouldn’t be able to tell their employer if they did have one; highlighting the stigma around mental health in a work setting.

So how can we make the workplace more mentally healthy?

Dr Richard Bowskill, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Brighton and Hove, suggests implementing an early recognition policy to help instigate treatment or support as early as possible, and is in agreement with the Chief Medical Officer that allowing more flexibility in the working environment could be beneficial. However, the key to unlocking the stigma towards mental illness is acceptance and understanding of the condition:

“There’s a huge amount of stigma out there, especially in the workplace” said Dr Bowskill, “The stigma suffered can be as bad as the mental illness itself. Many compare their mental health condition with other illnesses, for example the stigma of cancer or heart problems. The stigma of mental illness is still very much higher.”

Guidance is out there

Getting to grips with what mental health actually is, is the first step to understanding and dispelling the various myths commonly associated with mental health. Anti stigma mental health organisation, Time to Change, has a variety of educational materials available offering guidance and support to employers on how to manage mental health in the workplace. 

If you or somebody you work with requires further support, please call 0845 277 4679 for more information or click here to make an enquiry.