Over the last 70 years or so, attitudes to mental health have changed considerably. We don’t put people experiencing a mental health crisis into asylums anymore. And since the pandemic hit, everybody seems to be talking about their mental health difficulties.
So that proves our attitudes to mental health and wellbeing have changed for the better – right?
Hmmm … maybe.
Read on to find out why we still need to change our attitudes to mental health in the workplace.
What were attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace like in the past?
In the bad old days (though still within living memory), mental health wasn’t well understood. Psychiatry was a poorly funded branch of medicine, and there were hardly any university departments doing research.
For patients and their families, mental illness was surrounded by shame and stigma. And if someone took their own life, it was considered a crime until 1961. No wonder mental illness wasn’t mentioned for fear of other relatives being ‘tainted’ by association. So, in many families, mental illness remained a guilty secret.
The social and economic implications of mental illness were enormous. It was very difficult, if not impossible, for someone with a mental health problem to keep their job. Imagine how hard it would have been to find a new one. And the impact on businesses was as severe as it was for individuals.
What are attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace like now?
Thankfully, it’s become much more acceptable to talk about common mental health conditions. Most of us know their names: stress, depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder etc. But do we really understand what they mean and how they affect people living with the condition? Still, it’s a sign of greater understanding and acceptance that these words are now ‘out there’.
And since the pandemic hit, everyone has probably felt that their mental health has been affected. Fortunately, employers are taking more notice of employee mental wherever they are working at the moment.
Organisations like ACAS, CIPD and Business in the Community can support companies to improve workplace mental health and wellbeing. And charities such as MIND and Samaritans do remarkable work to raise awareness of mental health issues and support people in crisis.
Importantly, the Equality Act (2010) now means that disability because of mental ill health is a protected characteristic. Therefore, people experiencing a period of poor mental health cannot be discriminated against.
So, clearly, some progress has been made in changing attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and elsewhere.
But what more do we need to do to change attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?
MIND warns of an approaching ‘second pandemic’ of mental ill health. Recent research by the Centre for Mental Health predicts that up to 10 million people in England will need mental health support. 1.5 million of them are children and young people under 18, but if they have poor mental health, their parents’ work life will suffer.
Business in the Community reported that 69% of employees had experienced a mental health problem last year. These were either caused or made worse by work. Excessive workplace demands caused problems for 57% of those working at home, while added pressure negatively affected 46% of those in the workplace.
In a 2020 workplace stress survey, 79% of respondents commonly experience work-related stress. This was caused by toxic office politics and poor communication.
With this many people affected by mental ill health, and now re-entering the workforce, employers need to be ready.
How can we change attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?
Imagine if this many people had been physically harmed in some kind of natural disaster. We wouldn’t waste any time ensuring that they could work in supportive surroundings that met their specific needs.
So it’s time to treat mental and physical health equally. We need to create workplaces where it’s normal to talk about depression or anxiety. After all, anyone can experience a period of mental ill health – especially after the year we’ve just experienced! So, the first step is to normalise and demystify it.
You’ll find a wealth of resources on the SupportRoom blog. There’s lots of helpful information for employers and employees. For example:
Read on to find out more about what SupportRoom can offer your organisation.
How can SupportRoom help my company?
Here, at SupportRoom, we offer employee therapy for small to medium businesses. Our platform allows employees to receive therapy on-demand from a dedicated, qualified therapist.
Our SME Employee Support platform is designed to give insightful data that allows your employees to track their progress and monitor their own mental and physical health.
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