Time for employers to focus on mental health

This article was published in the Press and Journal Leader Magazine on October 10th

Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day and a time to focus attention on an issue that affects millions of lives.

Having the World Federation of Mental Health putting the spotlight on this most sensitive but important of subjects should make us think about friends, family and work colleagues who are affected and what we can do to help.

We know from support organisations who are members of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, such as Birchwood Highland, Spirit Advocacy and Westfield Health, that a significant number of people in the Highlands are living with mental health difficulties.

Indeed, we will be recognising this by supporting the work of Spirit Advocacy as the recipients of our Christmas lunch charity prize draw this year.

Inverness Chamber believes it is essential that all sizes of business are aware of the impact mental health issues can have on staff and others and that they have appropriate support in place for employees.

The statistics are eye-opening. Birchwood figures show that one in three people in the Highlands will experience mental ill health. Seventy eight per cent of workers in Scotland admit to feeling stress at work, according to an Investors in People Managing Mental Health report. And work is now the most stressful aspect of people’s lives, says the charity Mind, with as many as 300,000 employees with a mental health problem losing their job every year.

It should be a moral obligation for businesses to ensure their staff are not put under unnecessary stress and that systems are in place to help those who need physical or mental health assistance. The stigma attached to mental health can make it difficult for those affected to seek help and, therefore, efforts must be made to remove that barrier.

But is also makes business sense to provide that support. Sickness absence and staff turnover costs businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, according the UK Government’s Thriving at Work report, while it has been estimated that better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

To do that, there needs to be a workplace culture that ensures employees’ wellbeing and provides early support through awareness of mental health issues. This can not only result in greater productivity, cut down on absenteeism and help profitability, it will also make for improved working conditions and help staff retention.

Interestingly, the Investors in People study showed that 15 per cent of workers would rather have workplace support for their mental health than a 3 per cent pay rise.

Mental ill health can be a lonely, isolating and often hidden problem. We owe it to our employees and colleagues to make it less of an exclusive and more of a shared issue and that every day is World Mental Health Day.