Can you spot a mental health issue among your workforce?


Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression. Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide.

Whilst it is a common mental disorder that affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, businesses and individuals often don’t know how to deal with it. A recent report by the Institute of Directors in the UK revealed that more than half of business leaders have been approached by staff with mental health issues but just 14% of companies have a formal policy in place to deal with the problem. In fact, one in five large company directors didn’t even know whether they had a policy at all.

Businesses should consider how they can put measures in place to help staff who suffer from mental illness and how to create an environment which guards against it.

Of course, every company wants to have a happy and healthy workforce, and there are commercial benefits too. The Institute of Directors found that 127m hours of work were lost in 2015 in the UK because of mental health issues. By having an effective wellness strategy in place, businesses can reduce the number of days taken off work because of mental health issues, such as stress, depression and anxiety. Furthermore, employees are more likely to remain loyal to businesses that care for their wellness. Therefore, investing in the health of your staff will improve staff engagement and retention rates.

Signs that an employee is suffering from a mental health issue may include:

  • Persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that they normally enjoy
  • An inability to carry out daily activities for at least two weeks
  • A loss of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Indecisiveness and restlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
  • In extreme circumstances, thoughts of self-harm or suicide

How you can help

There are several practical measures which can be taken to help prevent and mitigate mental illness in the workplace:

  • Create an inclusive environment whereby it is acceptable and comfortable to talk about mental health issues. This is one of the key messages from this year’s World Health Day.
  • Ease the burden on your staff – workload is known to be one of the biggest causes of workplace stress. Ensure staff feel comfortable to talk to line managers about their workload and don’t encourage a culture in which it is expected to work long hours and answer emails from home.
  • Introduce line manager training to spread awareness.
  • Consider introducing online tools, such as cognitive behaviour therapy tools popular in the US. These have proven to be successful as they allow individuals to take ownership over their health and not have to disclose that they’re receiving help.
  • Introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – this is an employee benefit that can support employees that are struggling at work due to personal problems of any description. Features of this benefit can include access to 24/7 medical information, face to face counselling sessions and telephone support from clinical professionals.
  • Choose a robust Private Medical Insurance package which includes treatment for mental illness. This can help employees dealing with clinical depression for the long-term.
  • Offer educational workshops and training programmes which encourage staff to think about their mental and emotional health.
  • Allow staff the flexibility required to deal with mental health issues - managers often bend over backwards to accommodate staff with physical problems but don’t do the same for depression or anxiety.
  • Consider your legal responsibilities – employers in most countries have a legal responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work.
  • Think about the language that is used when discussing mental illness. It is important to highlight that a mental health issue is accepted and will not negatively impact an employee’s career.

By Mark Fosh - Howden