This is the second in our series of articles on Mental Health Wellbeing in the Workplace, following on from the AXA Health Tech & You Round-Table discussion hosted by 2020health in January. Our first article highlighted some of the headline figures of the AXA HTY digital health ‘State of the Nation’ survey by YouGov.
This second picks up on one the key themes that emerged from the Round-Table discussion; changing attitudes and increasing awareness across our society about the prevalence of mental distress and its effect on peoples’ lives; and about the importance of mental wellbeing and early intervention and prevention. Reflecting on the many changes over my working life; starting in the City as a trainee accountant, when computers were the size of a room and lowly auditors worked with Tipp-Ex and calculators; I recalled some lines of poetry by T.S. Elliot, about the despairing death-like crowd flowing over London Bridge in a foggy winter dawn, as I commuted into work each morning and grappled with the strangeness and challenge of this new grown up working life. A bit melodramatic, but I was an idealistic English Literature Graduate, adapting to corporate life in a traditional, stiff upper lip environment, where admitting to stress was not an option!
Thankfully, things have moved on and there is greater awareness of the incidence of mental illness in our society, and an acknowledgement that it needs to be addressed, just as much as physical illness. Alongside the mental health charities, including MIND who were represented on our Roundtable panel; public figures such as the younger members of Royal Family, are raising the public profile and seeking to eliminate stigma around mental health with their Heads Together Charity.
The current received wisdom is that ‘at any one time’ , “around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem”. Drawing on the results of the AXA HTY YouGov poll, Round-Table chair Julia Manning observed, it is more likely that “we’re getting on for half the population who have experienced some sort of mental health distress” at some point in their lives. Significantly, this is being reflected in government health policy and corporate HR policies; highlighted by the recent government commissioned Farmer Stevenson Report, Thriving At Work . A key recommendation being that, “all employers, regardless of size or industry, should adopt 6 ‘mental health core standards’ that lay basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health”. Eve Critchley of MIND shared their experience of implementing the Work Place Wellbeing Index as the benchmark, “we’re taking this seriously and we’re willing to share some of our results, and data as well, so we can benchmark how we’re doing and set a target for improvement”.
Alongside the anguish of mental illness for sufferers and their families, the Roundtable reflected on societal and commercial impacts of mental illness on this scale. The YouGov survey showed that of the 41% respondents taking days off work as a result of mental illness, 18% took 21 days or more. The Thriving At Work report suggests that untreated mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year. The commercial good sense of supporting mental wellbeing in the workplace was underlined by reflections from panellist, Chris Tomkins . He shared analysis by Professor Alex Edmunds, of companies with wellbeing programmes, and those without , showing that companies with wellbeing programmes grew, on average, between 2.3% and 3.8% faster than those without. As Chris reflected, “Certainly, any large corporate’s going to be impressed by 4% growth. That’s a major impact”.
Kathy Mason, March 2018
An edited version of this article was published by The Huffington Post on 23/02/2018