It's usually unemployment that's seen as the biggest threat to mental health. Current economic pressures and uncertainties mean that more employees are struggling to cope. Our figures show a steep increase in the number of people calling support lines for help with issues relating to mental health, up 70% between the same period in 2010 to 2012.
The figures are evidence of the cumulative effect of problems created by the recession. What may have started as a fairly normal sense of insecurity that we can all feel, some added pressures, changes at work and financial worries, turns into more serious mental health issues over time. In particular, long-term anxiety can result in problems with relationships at home and the usual structures of support and certainty can begin to buckle.
The challenge for organisations has always been how best to support employees affected by issues that are clearly affecting their work but are also highly personal. The natural inclination is to say nothing - who wants to intrude and create an awkward situation?
We all need to get better at accepting that problems with mental health, for any kind of person, can be just as common as physical illnesses and are nothing to be ashamed of or to back away from. People get over psychological problems like anxiety and depression, just like they do from a virus, it's not indication of a permanent flaw or personality trait.
Problems can be nipped in the bud. When people do go on sick leave with mental - or physical - health issues, the quicker they can return to work and some normality the better. According to the evidence, being out of ordinary work routines for four weeks leads to real risks of never going back at all. Despite efforts to keep people in work with the introduction of the 'fit note' in April 2010, delays in the time taken to assess what capacity people can work in and an embedded tendency amongst doctors to declare people completely unfit, means that each year over 300,000 people are still allowed to fall long-term absent and eventually onto state benefits.
Employers can make a huge difference just by making a gesture, something as simple as flexing someone's hours so that they can meet the children from school and have dinner with their family. In general, it's far better to offer support before the classic 'fight or flight' response, causing employees to behave aggressively with colleagues and customers or call in sick, kicks in. Implemented properly, access to appropriate talking therapies and even relatively minor adjustments - for instance taking away tasks the employee finds particularly stressful (such as presenting to large groups) or allowing them to flex their hours as they gradually come back to work - can bring positive results. In most cases, employees get back to their best in as little as six to eight weeks.
With the UK facing its longest downturn in a century, it's important we understand what this means for people and not just for the bottom line. New business strategies need to be matched by new attitudes and openness around mental health.