It's Mental Health Awareness Week so a good time to reflect on the crucial role businesses can play in supporting mental heath issues. There's not just a moral case but an unquestionable business case for doing so: each year one in four people experience a common mental health condition - such as stress, anxiety or depression - and the overall cost of mental health to the UK economy is estimated at £70 billion per year.
Anyone can be affected, regardless of their position or level of seniority. And a pervading culture of stigma and silence means that issues that may otherwise be preventable or easily resolved can escalate into ill health, resulting in suffering and discrimination for thousands of employees every day.
A year ago we worked with Business in the Community (BITC) - with the support of Mind and Time to Change - to fundamentally address that culture. We launched a landmark report 'Mental Health: We're Ready to Talk' in which members of BITC's Wellbeing group pledged to help end the silence by enhancing their own programmes and driving awareness and application amongst peers. These are more than a dozen influential businesses, such as Mars, P&G, M&S, BT, National Grid, Friends Life, Bupa, Amex and Santander. A year later and we have worked with these businesses to report their great strides in ensuring that people can get the help they need but also, crucially, to promote positive practices that prevent issues arising. And these programmes have had impactful results. Senior voices are speaking out, enforcing the message that this is being taken seriously and encouraging all businesses to take action.
I recently attended the launch of the book 'A Mind for Business' from Andy Gibson of Mindapples, the organisation that helps everyone take care of their minds like we take care of our bodies. The launch panel discussion was entitled 'Whose business is wellbeing?' and it pointed out - for anyone that was in any doubt - that this is not about looking inside people's minds and exploring innermost secrets, it is about giving people the opportunity to stay well and make the most of themselves in the work they do. The question also reflects that businesses must ensure the nuance and impact of the language they use to communicate to their employees and stakeholders what is on offer and why they take it seriously.
Mental health issues can arise through a combination of work and non-work related factors. Whatever the cause, it is in the employer's interest to provide support; to help prevent the condition getting worse, prevent absenteeism or to get someone back to work and full productivity sooner. Further, Mind found 60% of employees would feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer took action to support mental wellbeing.
Mental Health Awareness Week is run by the Mental Health Foundation and this year's theme is 'mindfulness', the act of paying attention to the present moment, without getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future. It's something that businesses are taking note of. At our workplace, we've offered every employee access to a mindfulness app, as part of a suite of initiatives - after signing Time to Change's Organisational Pledge, we formed a small working group, involving staff of all levels. The group decided to take an integrated approach covering environment, support, training and social interaction, starting by carrying out an independent healthcheck of the business. You can read about our approach here.
It is encouraging to see progress and change, and yet some sectors - including those representing some high pressured professional businesses - are still unrepresented. For all businesses, people are the number one asset, so they must be looked after. We'd like to see all businesses take a proactive approach to wellbeing and encourage open discourse on strategies and achievements with peers. It's Mental Health Awareness Week so let's raise the volume.