End stigma of mental illness ‘taboo’: Charity urges bosses to protect Manchester minds

There are so many varieties of the saying ‘happy staff, happy company’ and smart bosses know that organisations perform better when the people working there are healthy, motivated and focused. 

But recent statistics have revealed that one in six employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year, meaning the nation’s workforce will continue to be adversely affected.

That is why a Manchester-based charity is encouraging local businesses to turn to them for practical guidance on mental illness awareness in the workplace in order to break down the stigma and barriers of this all too often ‘taboo’ issue.

Manchester Mind believe that starting a conversation about better mental health is the key to a long-term stable workforce and if well-being is improved, then work performance is also likely to improve.

The majority of staff who receive training from the charity feels better equipped to deal with their own issues, to support their colleagues and to also work more effectively with clients with mental health issues.

Elizabeth Simpson, the charity’s service director, acknowledges that there is a strong ‘fear’ amongst staff to discuss their health.

“Mental health in society has tended to be a taboo subject due to the fear of stigma and discrimination,” she told MM.

“Although with recent campaigns talking about mental health is more public there continues to be that fear particularly in a workplace and particularly if the culture in that workplace is competitive and people are expected to meet targets.

“This kind of culture could exacerbate not only mental health problems but fear of being seen as not up to the job or weak.”

Recent statistics revealed that 60% of employees said they would feel more motivated and likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer took action to support mental wellbeing.

This has been proven by the fact FTSE 100 companies, who prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing, outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%.

Elizabeth believes employers should lead the way in creating an environment which is more open and supportive, and where staff are not afraid to acknowledge mental health issues.

She said: “Early intervention is always the best policy and that by spotting the early signs, managers can better support their staff.”

“Ideally, if managers and HR staff are skilled up in being more aware of mental health issues then it can create an environment where mental health is seen as everyone’s business and can be openly acknowledged and spoken about.

“This way emerging symptoms or difficulties could be picked up on more quickly and support built into the workplace or reasonable adjustments made.

“In doing this sickness absence could be reduced as things can be put in place which may reduce the likelihood of someone needing to take time off due to sickness.”

It has been proven that sustained work pressure and a poor work/life balance can quickly lead to stress and burnout, reducing levels of employee productivity, performance, creativity and morale.

Workplace triggers for stress and mental health problems include long hours and no breaks, unrealistic expectations or deadlines, high-risk roles and poor internal communication among others.

This can be avoided by including flexible working hours and encouraging staff to take full lunch breaks, avoid working at weekends and taking annual leave.

Elizabeth believes that a variety of factors, both in and out of work, could negatively affect the mental health of employees.

“With regard to working long hours – if you have little control over the hours you work or the expectations that are placed around your workload then it can have an adverse effect on your mental health,” she added.

“That would be the general thinking but then each person is different and may respond to pressure and stress in a different way. 

“The other thing to factor in is that work doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

“Relationships break down, money worries get on top of you, people have losses or other long term health conditions which can impact on mental health and if these events occur and you are doing long hours as well it could cause further problems.”

Manchester Mind know that employees suffering from a downturn in mental health should be given adequate time off work in order to improve their well-being – which inversely affects their work performance.

Elizabeth said: “Mental health issues should be treated the same as people with physical health problems so that if you are too unwell to work you would be off sick.

“I suspect the statistics would say that people with mental health problems are likely to stay in work or not admit that they are taking time off work due to mental health problems due to the stigma that is attached.”

If you are an employer seeking more information and support about workforce wellbeing, please contact Manchester Mind here

Image courtesy of Wan Mohd with thanks.

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