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Catching them before they fall: How to support employees’ mental health

BHSF Occupational Health

A recent survey has discovered that just 15% of employees would tell their line manager about a mental health issue. With poor mental health affecting an increasing number of the UK’s working population, it is crucial that businesses address the stigma attached to mental health in the workplace.

Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF Occupational Health, shares his advice on supporting employees and creating a more open culture.

New research from health and wellbeing provider BHSF, has revealed the real reason employees call in sick, with 42% claiming a physical illness, when in reality it is a mental health issue.

It also highlights the need for workplace awareness, with 79% admitting that their employer does not offer dedicated mental health support. This lack of support has led to an average of 8.4 sick days taken each year, per employee, due to poor mental health – causing an increasing strain on the UK’s workforce.

What early intervention strategies can employers implement?

Many people are reluctant to discuss mental health issues with their manager, as they fear it could affect promotion, or worry that their peers will judge them. This only reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

In order to challenge this stigma, workplace culture must be open and supportive, encouraging employees to approach their colleagues or line manager with issues of this nature.

Regular communication

There are simple ways that employers can show that they care about the wellbeing of their staff. Regular communication about mental health during one-to-one lunches, or even team events, could encourage staff to open up. Breaking the silence is the first step towards combating the stigma attached to mental health.

Early intervention strategies can be incredibly valuable for employers and, more importantly, their employees. Early intervention measures include the provision of mental health first-aiders, or nominated responsible people that are amenable to offer support.

Mental health first-aiders

Most employers, no matter how small they are, will have a first-aider, as it is required by law. Encouraging a nominated first-aider to train as a mental health first-aider makes good business sense, as it allows employees to raise any issues before they reach crisis point and start to have a detrimental effect on the organisation.

Survey your workforce

Confidential surveys are a great technique to establish a baseline. Not only is a mental health survey low cost, it is also an effective way of benchmarking your organisation against other employers. Employees must be assured that the information they give is confidential, in order for this to be an accurate assessment.

When should employers intervene?

Action taken at the earliest stage can help to resolve the issue efficiently and prevent further deterioration. If an employer is concerned about an individual’s wellbeing, working with an occupational health service can allow them to encourage an early referral before they are signed off from work.  

Diagnosing a mental health problem

Expert clinicians are best placed to diagnose a mental health problem. In order to provide a detailed assessment, they will conduct a clinical interview to build a picture of the employee’s mental wellbeing. Occupational health is covered by the ethical codes of confidentiality, so employees are not obliged to tell their employer anything.

Alternatively, the BHSF Occupational Health Adviceline offers employers support on a wide range issues over the phone. The Adviceline is based on a 'what should I do now/next?' philosophy, and can help managers solve employee problems, by targeting the most appropriate sources of help.

Vital support for workplace mental health

By introducing HR initiatives, employers can offer staff an extra support system. HR tools, such as Employee Assistance Programmes, offer vital assistance and have become integral in establishing a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace.

Now is the time for businesses to look at their current approach to mental health and make improvements where necessary. It is the employer’s responsibility to eradicate the stigma that currently exists in the workplace by creating an open culture, and introducing measures to support employee wellbeing. By prioritising mental health, employers could see a huge transformation in staff engagement, retention and even productivity.   

To find out more about mental health in the workplace, why not attend BHSF’s upcoming seminar which will take place at De Vere Colmore Gate, Birmingham, B3 2QD on Thursday 26 July, between 9am and 10:30am.

To register your attendance and find out more, click here.