How should employers approach mental health in the workplace?

On 1 April, we saw an update to the Mental Health Act 1983 – the first one since 2008. Some of the biggest changes we’ll see are doctors giving patients and carers more involvement in discussions regarding their own care, focusing on personalised care as well as supporting the ‘Closing the Gap: Priorities for essential change in mental health’ campaign to eliminate discrimination and stigma around mental health. But what should employers be doing in light of these changes?

Whilst it’s great that the Government is updating the Mental Health Act, it doesn’t really change the fact that over the years budgets have been cut by 8%, worth almost £600million, whilst referrals to community mental health teams have increased by almost 20%.

Councils now have less funding to be able to provide the right care at a local level. This can lead to people being treated in facilities hours from their home or even people spending the night in a prison cell due to a lack of hospital beds, which we know from the personal experiences of friends does happen.

Mental health has been a hot topic over the years and one that is increasing in popularity, mainly due to charities attempts to reduce the stigma and people being able to talk more candidly on social media. On the ground level this appears to be working – people appear to have more of an understanding of mental health issues. On social media people campaigning for understanding receive more retweets, shares and likes than they could possibly imagine – Facebook is trialling a new support service for vulnerable users in America - yet somewhere this enthusiasm and hunger for acceptance has failed to reach the business community.

This article from the Telegraph yesterday featured a survey by AXA PPP Healthcare which showed seven in ten bosses do not think that mental illness, such as stress, anxiety and depression are valid reasons to be off work. A poll on the Telegraph website also found over 60% of employees would lie to their bosses if they needed to take time off work for stress, anxiety or depression.

Prevention is always better than cure but employers need to recognise that mental wellbeing of staff, whether they suffer from a diagnosed mental health condition or not, is tantamount to the success of their company. So what can be done?

There are plenty of organisations that specialise in helping take the pressure off before it’s too late. Somewhere that employees can talk about their stresses, without worries of what people might think and without the fear of jeopardising their job or reputation. Something as simple as an occupational health and wellbeing service opens up a confidential channel of communication that does just that, and rehabilitation services can help employees return to their best at work.

There’s a long way to go before the stigma surrounding mental health is eradicated, but here’s to hoping that we’re on the right tracks, one Mental Health Act update at a time.