Organisations around the world are beginning to recognise the importance of good mental health in their employees. Research is clearly linking psychological health with workplace physical injuries. If your staff are not ‘present’ they are more likely to be less productive, prone to mistakes and ultimately place themselves and others at risk of injury. This article draws on the key points of a recent editorial piece on Improving Mental Health in the Workplace, published in The Lancet Psychiatry and the Australian Government’s Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, to assist managers.
Australian and UK Statistics
Current estimates by the World Health Organisation show that globally there are 300 million experiencing depression. Middle aged adults are most at risk of depression and common mental disorders that are a leading cause of disability.
In Australia, 3 million people have anxiety and/or depression, 200 people attempt suicide every day, with 8 people taking their own lives and 25% attempting it again when they don’t succeed. Beyond Blue also note that 50% of people suffering depression don’t seek help and of the 8 daily suicides, 75% are men. Australian findings indicate that 89% know someone who attempted suicide and 85% knew of someone who took their own life. The cost to the Australian Government is estimated at $12 billion and the cost to employers for reduced mental health in the workplace is estimated at $28.6 billion from lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism (working while ill).
The Fifth Plan report notes that Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) have disproportionate experiences of mental illness with rates of major depressive episodes four to six times higher than the general population. People with eating disorders, disabilities, people who misuse substances and those who have been exposed to trauma (e.g. sexual abuse), experience higher rates of comorbid mental health problems than the general population. These include depression and anxiety disorders, substance misuse and personality disorders. There is also a higher burden of mental illness for people who live in rural and remote Australia.
The Thriving at work: the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers Report shows that in the UK, one in four people report that they experience a mental health problem each year but only one in eight are receiving treatment. The cost to the UK Government, is estimated at £24–27 billion. UK employers shoulder additional enormous costs estimated at £33–42 billion. People with long term mental illness are much less likely to find work and an estimated 300,000 lose their jobs in the UK every year because of their illness.
The Fifth Plan
The Australian Government Fifth Plan was developed by the National Mental Health Commission in 2014 to guide the next five years provision of mental health and related services. The Australian Mental Health Strategy aims to:
- promote the mental health and well-being of the Australian community and, where possible, prevent the development of mental health problems and mental illness
- reduce the impact of mental health problems and mental illness, including the effects of stigma on individuals, families and the community
- promote recovery from mental health problems and mental illness, and
- assure the rights of people with mental health problems and mental illness, and enable them to participate meaningfully in society.
Suicide prevention is noted as a priority in the Fifth Plan and the Australian Government has committed to the following 11 elements:
- Surveillance—increase the quality and timeliness of data on suicide and suicide attempts.
- Means restriction—reduce the availability, accessibility and attractiveness of the means to suicide.
- Media—promote implementation of media guidelines to support responsible reporting of suicide in print, broadcasting and social media.
- Access to services—promote increased access to comprehensive services for those vulnerable to suicidal behaviours and remove barriers to care.
- Training and education—maintain comprehensive training programs for identified gatekeepers.
- Treatment—improve the quality of clinical care and evidence-based clinical interventions, especially for individuals who present to hospital following a suicide attempt.
- Crisis intervention—ensure that communities have the capacity to respond to crises with appropriate interventions.
- Postvention—improve response to and caring for those affected by suicide and suicide attempts.
- Awareness—establish public information campaigns to support the understanding that suicides are preventable.
- Stigma reduction—promote the use of mental health services.
- Oversight and coordination—utilise institutes or agencies to promote and coordinate research,
training and service delivery in response to suicidal behaviours.
Green Shoots of Good Practice
The UK NHS Mental Health Task Force together with the mental health charity Mind released a report in September 2015 that notes some evidence of enhanced mental health core standards to improve mental health in the workplace. These include better internal and external reporting, improved disclosure processes, and providing tailored, in-house support and signposting to connect workers to clinical help. The recommendations for employers include requiring employers to adopt core standards, make sick pay more flexible for mental health and to ensure that NHS-provided mental health support is accessible around work. The implementation of mental health work plans and routine monitoring of employee health and wellbeing is also encouraged. They underscore the important and singular role that managers can play in the process of regularly checking in on workers and in reducing stigma by opening lines of communication and a supportive culture.
The Lancet Psychiatry research published in October 2017, found that managers who were trained in skills to improve communication around mental health in the workplace helped reduce the amount of work-related sick leave taken by employees, with businesses receiving a modest return on investment for each pound spent on that training. PwC Australia also estimated for every dollar spent on mental health training there was a return of $2.40 in gained productivity. By empowering managers we create a successful link to support.
The Lancet goes further to suggest that the workplace can be both a source of stress and at the same time an amazing support system but to do that we need:
“Creative solutions to bridge access and bring occupational medicine into the workplace by encouraging open dialogue, prioritising healthy work environments, providing self-care toolkits, web and smart phone technology, and wellbeing initiatives that include strong mental health care components”.
Web and Smart Device Technology
Mental health solutions delivered via smart devices and online are an efficient way to provide quicker and accessible support and training to organisations. Traditionally, providers deliver mental health training in workshops. Others deliver diagnostic surveys to gauge staff mental health state. The problem is regular engagement (which costly for organisations to train) and the accurate collection of data (people often only tell you what they think you want to hear). One solution is Tap into Safety which unique in that it offers training delivered online and via smart devices, anywhere, anytime on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using fun animation, gamification and interaction. As part of a well-being programme, the solution helps business to manage mental health in the workplace better by providing relevant and interactive training.
The solution offers ‘one click away’ from help to reach out for support (on average only 5% access their EAP when 20% have an issue right now – stigma plays a huge role here). Tap into Safety increases help-seeking by 100% as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017. By encouraging help-seeking early we reduce the escalation into serious stress claims and thereby improve mental health in the workplace.
Finally, the diagnostic tool (animated, gamified DASS-21) is a world first in its use across organisations, that together with our filters, enables them to pin point groups of staff in mental health decline so that they can target and tailor their wellbeing education programmes. This not only saves them money; their programmes are now more effective.
Given the ever increasing statistics of staff presenting with declining mental health in the workplace there has never been a better time to do things differently. Organisations around the world need employees who are mentally healthy and productive. Society deserves mentally healthy citizens who can live fulfilling lives that are not hampered by mental issues. Support is needed right now!
If after reading this article you feel you need immediate support, please contact Lifeline.