It's time we talked more openly about mental health

Nearly a third of UK employees feel unsure about who to talk to or where to find help or support regarding mental health issues.

Monday, 7th March 2016, 8:47 am
Updated Monday, 7th March 2016, 8:51 am

Even more startling was that nearly 40 per cent of people find it hard to talk to or open up about their mental health to anyone.

These findings come from our recent survey into the mental resilience of nearly 2,000 employees across the UK.

Mental health problems are common. In fact one in four people every year will be affected by a mental health issue, and stress has now become the most common reason for workers being signed off on long-term sick.

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We probably all work with someone who is experiencing or who has experienced a mental health problem.

However, our research shows that employees often feel isolated and lost, not knowing who to talk to or where to turn.

There’s a stigma attached to mental health in the UK workplace – the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture where we feel that admitting mental health problems shows some kind of weakness.

While nine out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination, the reasons for why people remain silent about it in the workplace are varied.

Some fear opening up about a mental health issue might affect their job or career progression, others don’t want to be seen as a ‘weak link’ within a team.

Many employees reported feeling that, although awareness of mental health problems is increasing, there is still a lack of understanding around it.

It is essential we tackle this culture. Just as we would talk about a physical ailment openly with colleagues, it should be acceptable to talk about mental health problems without the worry of facing stigma and discrimination as a result.

Importantly, employers need to do more to make it easy for staff to talk openly about these issues, and provide good levels of guidance and support.

Managers should be trained to look out for common mental illness symptoms, encourage employees to talk openly about mental health, and sign post people to experts and clinicians for support when needed.

Talking about this once-taboo issue doesn’t need to be difficult.

Businesses need to help create a workplace environment where every day is an opportunity to break down the culture of silence and ensure people can talk openly without fear.

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Westfield Health is based at Westfield House, 87 Division Street, Sheffield, S1 1HT.