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Poor mental health and wellbeing ‘costing region £12bn a year’

10 October 2018

Poor mental health and wellbeing is a significant problem for the West Midlands, costing the region more than £12 billion each year.

It’s a big problem for business too – new figures from British Chambers of Commerce show that a massive 26 per cent of West Midlands businesses have seen a slight or significant increase in the number of employees taking time off due to mental health issues during the last three years.

And despite the obvious scale of the problem, the Chambers says that one third of companies have no structure in place to support employee wellbeing.

However, more is being done to raise awareness of the issue - in the West Midlands, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has recruited a number of medium-sized organisations to take part in its ‘Thrive at Work’ trial, which is aimed at improving mental and physical health in the workplace, but are still seeking applications from businesses with between 10 and 50 staff.

Today is World Mental Health Day which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.

The day provides an opportunity for all those working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

Many businesses in the West Midlands do take mental health seriously, among them infrastructure company Amey and financial services firm Wesleyan.

Wesleyan, based in central Birmingham, says that it is ‘committed to having an open and honest culture around mental health to help make it easier for those suffering and those supporting them’.

Earlier this year the firm launched ‘The Network for Employee Wellbeing (NEW)’, a forum where staff can raise issues surrounding mental and physical wellbeing.

The network is also advising on how Wesleyan can make improve the support it gives to people with mental health issues.

One of the first initiatives has been to establish mental health first aiders (as Amey has done). Once trained, the first aiders will be able to recognise crucial warning signs of mental ill health and guide someone towards the appropriate support.

The firm has also launched a virtual wellbeing centre that employees can access online at any time and a 24-hour helpline providing confidential support to help staff facing practical and emotional challenges.

Caroline Hill, director of HR and corporate services at Wesleyan, said: “Mental health can impact any one of us and we don’t want Wesleyan’s employees to have to struggle on in silence.

“That’s why we’re bringing mental health to the fore and are committed to doing everything we can to support greater mental health awareness and support for employees and the community.”

Amey, which is responsible for Birmingham’s roads,  has given mental health first aid training to four employees from its Birmingham Highways Maintenance and Management service (BHMMS), as Wesleyan has done.

The training was provided by mental health charity Birmingham Mind, which last year launched an action plan to transform the way people with mental health problems are treated by public services organisations and employers.

Lisa Ingram, head of business improvement for Amey in Birmingham, said:  “Health and safety is our main priority and putting people first is one of Amey’s core values that underpins the way we work.

“We’ve signed the ‘Time to Change’ employer pledge to show our commitment to changing the way we act and think about mental health, and our national network of mental health ambassadors organise local activities and events to get people talking.

“By focusing on good mental wellbeing, and supporting one another, we can create a workforce that is dynamic and inclusive, and provide an environment where our people can deliver great service and develop their talent within our business.”

‘Time to Change’ is a government-funded initiative aimed at changing attitudes to mental health in the workplace. 

The Chamber is using World Mental Health Day to highlight some of the work its members are doing to promote mentally healthy workplaces. This will be done via a podcast and social media outlets.

Chamber chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “With the stresses of modern life increasing the number of employees taking time off due to mental health issues, it is more important than ever that businesses are equipped to properly support their staff.”

Pictured: Jo Loughran, director, Time to Change and James Haluch, managing director of Amey’s highways division

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