Championing mental health in the workplace

Employers’ attitudes towards mental health are, thankfully, changing, largely because society as a whole is becoming more aware of the issue.

Unfortunately, this has been driven, in part, by an increase in the number of people suffering from mental health problems to begin with.

Businesses need to understand that their own working practices could contribute towards these problems. For example, recent technological advances and the associated ‘culture of connectivity’ can have an impact on stress and depression.

Nowadays, many employees feel obligated to be always ‘on’. Even when they are not actively working, they may feel a nagging anxiety knowing that, at any moment, they may have to reply to an email or take a call.

At first glance, employers may think that having a workforce perpetually connected to clients is good for business, as it may seem to increase productivity. In the long run, however, it may lead to people taking more time off work or not firing on all cylinders when they are on the clock. And that is to say nothing of the moral and legal duties towards maintaining a healthy workforce, which should always be paramount.

This is why, in 2016, French workers won the legal right to avoid dealing with work emails outside of working hours. Campaigners for the ‘right to disconnect’ law, which came into effect on January 1, 2017, had argued that those who were expected to check and reply to their work emails out of hours were at greater risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties.

These kinds of problems should be taken seriously, but at the other end of the mental health spectrum are even more worrying diagnosable conditions, such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

For anyone experiencing any sort of mental health issue at work, human resources (HR) is the first line of support, so HR professionals need to know how to handle these situations. However, a general awareness among workers can also be highly beneficial.

At Hewitsons, we take pride in championing mental health awareness. We recently appointed our first ‘mental health first aider’, with another soon to follow. The firm also has a training programme in place for all Partners and the management team.

Mental health first aiders are members of staff who are professionally trained – in our case, by the organisation Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – to spot mental health issues among colleagues when they arise, and then act on them appropriately.

This may involve alerting an HR professional, who can talk to the person involved tactfully and confidentially, and, if necessary, arrange a GP appointment and contact family members. Alternatively, it might mean simply making oneself available as a person to talk to.

If you are suffering from a mental health problem, or you are worried that someone you know might be, visit Mind’s website, www.mind.org.uk, for more information. Alternatively, call the charity’s information hotline, 0300 123 33939, and/or consider visiting your GP.