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Busting Myths Around Workplace Mental Health

08/10/2014 10:48 BST | Updated 07/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Ahead of World Mental Health Day, I look at some of the myths around mental wellbeing at work.

Mental health problems are rare

Do you know anyone who suffers from a common mental health issue like stress, depression or anxiety? Chances are you do as they affect more people than you might think - one in four people experience some sort of problem with their mental health each year. Because symptoms of mental ill-health can be difficult to spot, it can be hard to realise when something's wrong, but it's when the first warning signs aren't addressed that more chronic, long-term ill-health can develop.

Talking about mental health means career death

Many organisations don't openly discuss or publicly report on employee mental health because of concern it will damage their reputation.

But with work-related related stress, depression and anxiety on the rise, business leaders can't keep ignoring the issue.

In fact, transparency around addressing mental wellbeing can strengthen an organisation's reputation and drive employee performance. It can improve a company's credentials as a responsible employer and enhance its appeal in the eyes of customers, making it a more attractive investment prospect too.

Tomorrow's workforce will be looking for businesses that offer them robust wellbeing support, especially around mental health. Organisations that don't engage with workplace mental health risk becoming less competitive in terms of lost productivity through presenteeism and absenteeism and are more likely to lose out in the battle for talent.

People with mental health problems aren't able to work

We probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem. Right now, one in six workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress.

There is a misconception that employees affected by mental ill-health will be unable to make effective contributions or need prolonged periods of time off work. It can often be a more straightforward process of adjusting working environments to help alleviate conditions such as stress and allowing employees to work in a manner which enables them to perform to their best.

For instance, one of the main work-related causes of stress is long working hours. Offering employees the chance to use flexible working hours or work remotely can be effective in addressing this. It should be the marker of every responsible business to be proactive in offering this support.

Pressure is bad

There's a strong case to argue that pressure can actually enhance employee performance. It can help to sustain motivation, improve individual performance and drive results. But only in the right amounts. Too much pressure and unrealistic workload expectations can quickly lead to unmanageable levels of stress, and a collapse in confidence and motivation, leading to longer term problems that become harder to reverse.

Presenteeism from mental ill health, which means attending work whilst unwell or disengaged, is thought to cost the UK economy over £15 billion a year. Offering support to help employees maintain the right balance of pressure isn't just the responsible thing to do, it also makes business sense.

Line managers can't make a difference

You don't have to have to be an expert to make a difference in creating a positive culture of mental health at work. One of the ways is by creating an open forum for discussion on common conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety. It's about embedding mental health into the culture of organisation to ensure employees have the opportunity to talk openly about professional or personal issues that may be affecting their wellbeing.

Providing guidance for line managers and other employees will help common mental health issues be addressed at an earlier stage, allowing people to receive timely, appropriate support. Recognising that everyone can be affected by mental health issues is vital to create a transparent and inclusive workplace environment where people are sensitive to the pressures faced by others.

Let's get talking about mental health in the workplace to bring it out into the open and tackle what has become a vital business issue in a responsible way.

If you'd like to find out more please visit http://www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/workwell