Mental Health in the Workplace

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mental health in the workplace

Measuring mental health concerns and disorders is both difficult and problematic. While huge steps have been taken in recent history to understand and treat mental health ailments, we still know very little about the physiology and psychology of the brain. Other factors, such as the stigma surrounding mental health care concerns, also play a significant part in inhibiting people from seeking help and treatment for their mental ailments. The task of measuring and tackling mental health within a working context is, therefore, a difficult proposition. Today we take on the task of trying to understand mental health in a work context, with some assistance from reports by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Body and healthcare charities.

Mental Health in a Workplace Context

Our principal focus will be on cases of stress, anxiety and depression that are caused by work. Using the statistics provided by the HSE, we can determine that not all mental health cases caused by workplace difficulties were reported, but the insights from the statistics from the report do highlight some important findings.

The Labour Force Survey, a household survey consisting of 37,000 homes, provided the basis for HSE’s report, along with data from The Health and Occupation Research network for general practitioners (THOR-GP). The findings showed that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill health cases in 2017 and 49% of all working days lost due to ill health. A reported 526,000 cases were reported of workers suffering from work-related stress, anxiety or depression, and 12.5 million days of work were missed. For every 100,000 workers, 1,610 would suffer from some form of work-related stress, anxiety or depression. The days lost in this manner equate to 23.8 days per reported case.

Data across a three year period indicated that mental health concerns caused by work affect women more than men, with male reported cases per 100,000 estimated to be 1,170, while for women the number rises to 1,880. The most affected age group for men was 45-54, while for women it was 35-44. Data also indicates that mental health concerns disproportionately affect those working in larger businesses.   

The principal causes of work-related mental health concerns were workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. The effects of stress at work can be far-reaching; a common physical condition associated with stress is heart disease, and the report indicated anxiety and depression may play some role in musculoskeletal disorders.

What Can Employers Do?

Charities like the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) have moved the conversation on mental wellbeing in a more positive direction. MHF commissioned a report along with employee benefits specialists Unum which shows that employees with mental health problems add significant value to companies and the economy as a whole. Ultimately, those with mental ailments contribute an estimated £226 billion to the UK’s GDP (an estimated “nine times the cost to economic output arising from mental health problems at work”). Further support from companies and the government for workers suffering from mental health problems should reduce that number further. According to the report, most respondents reported some work induced distress that affected their productivity; by adding in enhanced support structures, employers could, in fact, improve the productivity and mental well-being of the entire workforce.       

What Can Workers Do?

Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general well being, so if you find yourself in a position that is not quite what you hoped (or something altogether inappropriate) start making a plan for your next career move.

Colleagues can start by looking out for each other; if you see signs of lethargy, noticeable shifts in mood and a general lack of care in a colleague, take time to ask he or she a few questions and show your support. Having colleagues around you know you can talk frankly with will certainly be useful (both for professional and personal matters).

Colleagues themselves can work together to create an environment in which talking about mental health concerns is as normal as talking about a muscular strain, thereby diminishing the discrimination surrounding mental health; the report says “fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.”

Asking an employer to adapt the job around a particular health issue is also an option. Just as with any long-term illness, employees can request that their employer make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs. This could include changing an employee’s working pattern, allowing an employee to work remotely – there’s even a government fund set up to help companies set up such an arrangement if cost is a factor.

Finally, there are a few general well-being tips that can stop employees from falling into negative patterns: regular exercise keeps the endorphins (a kind of pleasure hormone) flowing around the body, eating well can provide your body with nutrients needed for healthy mental activity, and avoid drinking too much alcohol. Finally, accept who you are: a talented, yet imperfect individual just like the other seven + billion people in the world.

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