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What is your mental health strategy?

Posted 9th April 2019

“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” Noam Shpancer.

Have you already experienced a strong feeling of anger? or excessive fear or worries? or confused thinking? Maybe you forgot to eat one day or had a lot of difficulties sleeping?

These are a few warning signs of mental illness.

Mental awareness

More than half of UK employees who recognized feeling or having felt these warning signs of mental health struggles due to work,were revealed through a large survey done by the mental health charity Mind.  Greg Clark, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced; “Almost 1 in 3 people will be struck by mental health problems whilst in employment, and it is the single largest cause of disability in the UK”.

Despite a large mental health awareness campaign, 76% of employers feel unsure how to approach this issue as only 24% received training on mental health. Only 15% of UK employers have implemented a clear mental health initiative. In his Ted talk, Tom Oxley, the CEO of Bamboo Mental Health, underlines the stigma still attached to mental illness. According to him as well as John Dean, Managing Director, at Punter Southall Health & Protection, employers and managers should not only be trained but also establish clear strategies to support their employees well-being.


Break the taboo

980 UK organisations have pledged to work actively to destigmatize mental health issues by joining “Time to change”, a growing social movement which works in close collaboration with mental health charities such as Mind or Rethink Mental Health. These companies including from the FTSE 100, assisted by “Time to change” staff establish a valid and certified action plan to create a work environment where co-workers feel comfortable talking about mental health”.

Educating employees, managers and leaders about mental health seem to be the most efficient way to normalise mental health problems. A Barclays Bank initiative paved the way in 2016 when they ran an original ad campaign “This is me”. It broadcasts Barclay’s employees introducing themselves, their role within the company and also their mental disability and hobbies. More than just raising awareness about general mental health problems at work, they made their stories relatable, creating an efficient way to fight against discrimination. These individuals showed that whilst their mental struggle is part of who they are, they refuse to be solely defined by it. That impact of the use of storytelling as a tool to normalise mental health struggle has been widely recognised and since then 500 organisations have embraced their own “This is me”.

Learn how to be spot the warning signs

As well as breaking the taboo of mental illness and starting a conversation, Tom Oxley highlights that knowing what to say and when to listen is essential to provide support. For this reason more and more companies (such as Arcadis or BSS group) reach out to mental health organisations (such as Samaritans or Mind or Time to Change) to be trained in how to detect the warning signs of mental illness and how to respond appropriately. Recently, other tools which use artificial intelligence to pick up potential signs of mental health issues have appeared on the market. For example, the messaging app Mei is designed to detect sign of depression and anxiety in text messages, analysing the linguistic pattern and identifying abnormal behaviour in texts.

Establish easy to access support

Once alarm signs have been detected, clear procedures should be provided by

companies to mentally vulnerable people as to where to go and what to do to get help. In the US, most Fortune 500 companies choose to implement Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to assist employees with personal or work-related problems that might affect their job performance but also their mental and emotional health. For example, General Electric provides online mental support for employees in need and also provides a monthly visit of a mental health professional if required. Virgin Care also offers EAP focusing on online support, and MindCoach, an interactive platform designed to improve employees mental wellbeing.

In North American companies, most of the resources included in EAPs are offered by external providers (online counselling, external coach) unlike Northern European organisations ( UK) where help stems from a collaboration between employers, employees, local authorities, the voluntary sector, schools and the criminal justice sector. For example, in England, specifically in Leeds Building Society (LBS is the fifth largest in the UK), both employees and CEO work in partnership with the mental health charity Samaritans. Half of LBS employees have taken advantage of the 14h paid leave to volunteer to a charity offered by the organisation.  Some of them have chosen to volunteer to help their local Samaritans team and the CEO has shown the example by visiting the Leed’s branch of Samaritans to learn how to listen. PricewaterhouseCoopers UK went further and encouraged their staff to donate to the same charity via their payroll or to volunteer to their time.

Inger Hatloy, information officer of the mental health charity Mind, points out that within the leading European countries leaders in mental health integration (UK and Denmark), healthcare is free and open to all. These countries also received the highest public financial contribution to allow them to focus their efforts to implement community-based care focused on reducing stigma, implementing prevention and improving access to mental health resources within their national health services.

To conclude, this article has approached the subject of mental health at work from a broad perspective, depicting the strategies elected by big, established and successful companies, with no financial restriction or time limit to address this issue of mental health struggles of their employees. The following article will examine how small, young companies’ entrepreneurs are the first victims to mental disorders and what strategies they could employ to maintain stability.  

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