THE BLOG

Time to Talk: Why Employers Hold the Key to Challenging the Stigma Around Mental Health

06/02/2014 12:59 GMT | Updated 07/04/2014 10:59 BST

Across the UK we know that common mental conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression are a growing problem. It's now estimated that one in four people will experience some sort of mental health problem during their lifetime, and one in six employees will experience a common mental health problem at any one time.

Stress is on the increase as we work longer and harder in uncertain times. It's certainly true that we're all facing tougher challenges and greater pressure in our lives.

But it's important to remember that whilst the workplace is often cited as the reason for increased levels of stress and anxiety, it's usually factors outside of the office that are the root cause of common mental health conditions.

One of the main challenges we currently face is the culture of silence that exists around mental health at work. We are all human and leaving one's personal problems at the office door isn't realistic. Employees are generally reluctant to admit to suffering from mental health issues because of their fear of appearing weak.

But attitudes are beginning to change as progressive business leaders begin to recognise that now is the time to tackle this culture of silence. They are also realising the business and moral value of developing workplaces that promote wellbeing and resilience.

While we've seen some progress, there's still an enormous amount of work to be done to eliminate the stigma attached to mental health once and for all - the last workplace taboo. For this to happen we need to see more businesses take the lead in taking preventative action, as well as demonstrating support for employees who experience mental health issues, whether this be through Employee Assistance Programmes, opportunities to become active or simply by talking about their problems more openly.

There's been lots of progress around encouraging employees look after their physical health - we need to see mental health receive the same attention.

This is one of the reasons why Time to Talk day is so important. Having discussions at work about common mental health problems like anxiety, stress and depression is actually a huge step in shifting attitudes and preconceptions around mental health. It helps to create greater transparency and helps normalise the topic.

Transforming the stigma that exists around mental health at work remains a huge challenge. We've seen encouraging progress with MP John Woodcock recently taking the bold step to discuss his personal battles with mental health openly.

Getting businesses involved with the Time to Talk pledge is a good first step in capitalising on the opportunity to create real and lasting change around mental health. BITC Workwell is currently developing an initiative aimed at helping businesses to embed better approaches to mental health at the heart of their organisations. We look forward to announcing further details on 1st April, when BITC will be holding its Big Conversation on Mental Health during BITC's Responsible Business Week.

In the meantime, you can explore different ways to become part of the conversation around mental health via the Time to Change website.