“We talk about mental health as if it’s disconnected from our bodies – it’s not.’

Cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety reached nearly half a million in 2016-17, causing 12.5 million working days to be lost.

But despite this being a ‘record high’ and awareness also increasing of the problem in the boardroom, businesses are still struggling to put the proper support in place.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke with Grace Graham, founder of WorkSpa, focused on providing practical relaxation in the workplace. The aim is to help UK Plc reduce and prevent mental illness at work.

It is perhaps inappropriate that our knowledge of how to help people deal with mental health has risen at the same time as we are seeing record levels of people experiencing problems.

And I’m pretty sure every HR in the country will be aware of the theory that if employees feel valued in work environments that support their mental health, the more likely to have higher levels of well-being and productivity.

This is especially keen as evidence informs us of the benefits of having a robust and influential mental health well-being strategy in place.

One that sticks in my mind goes as far back as 2007 when BT implemented such a strategy which led to a 30% reduction in mental health-related sickness absence and a return to work rate of 75% for people absent for more than six months with mental health.

So why is the country facing what can easily be called an epidemic and what can be done to turn the tide?

In my three years of working with businesses, I have found the four most essential strategies to creating a successful programme are:

  1. Promoting well-being.
  • As with all big strategic decisions, having your leadership on board is paramount to the programme’s success. if a CEO is inclusive around tackling mental health, this makes life a lot easier
  • However, as part of this process, it helps to eliminate top-down ideologies and promote a dialogue where all are included in mental health. Giving employers a voice around what strategies they feel are beneficial to their mental health and well-being is really where the answer lies.
  • Policies relating to mental health and well-being should be integrated into all procedures such as health and safety, sickness, absences and return to work. This could be facilitated by implementing supportive policies that attempt to be preventative rather than punitive.
  1. Involving employees in the discussion around mental health and well-being.
  • Create a safe environment to discuss—some of the challenges your employees face and what strategies they may already be using. Make wellbeing a part of the plan during team meetings.
  • Mentoring and buddy scheme, it is not always easy for employees to open up to managers. Appoint a trusted and experienced person for your employees to take their private concerns to around mental health and stress issues at work
  1. Dismantling stigma
  • We all have mental health just as we do physical health. A discussion needs to be had around how we support the diversity of our employee’s needs. Mental health is a broad spectrum and cannot be treated with one solution; once you find out the needs of your team, this will enable you to build the right strategies.
  • Bring a speaker in who has dealt with mental health to discuss their employees’ strategies. Do not allow the elephant in the room to roam!
  1. Providing well-being services, Mind and body
  • A clear distinction is often made between ‘mind’ and ‘body’. We talk about mental health as if it’s disconnected from our bodies – it’s not.
  • It’s perhaps easier to see how mental health can affect physical health, but the opposite is true. Rates of depression double in people living with diabetes, high blood pressure and hearts problems; for example, 30% of those with a long term physical health condition also have a mental health problem.
  • Implementing monthly and weekly services such as on-site chair massage, yoga, and mindfulness will not only have huge effects on the health of your employees. At the same time, create an environment where your employees feel cared for and valued.

Ultimately, this is not something that will go away by itself. We need to inspire people to feel better and implement structures that support an ethos of open communication. As long as employees are given the freedom to have their say and the business is willing to act on it, the desired culture – and the wider business – can prosper.