This month, the Duke of Cambridge continued his very public stance on speaking out about mental health issues by talking about his own struggles whilst working as a helicopter pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
“I took a lot home without realising it. You see so many sad things every day that you think life is like that…You’re always dealing with despair and sadness and injury,” said the Duke, speaking at an event in Bristol.
The Duke also admitted to being “stunned” that only about 2% of employees feel able to talk to their HR representative about their mental health.
The same week, a survey by MIND found that about half of all employees in the UK are struggling with poor mental health. With 44,000 people surveyed it’s a pretty comprehensive and conclusive study – UK business has a huge problem with mental health.
With 33-million people in work in the UK, that amounts to about 16.5-million people suffering some sort of workplace or work-related anxiety, depression or mental health issue. That is an extraordinarily large figure equating to about a quarter of the total UK population.
But, as Prince William highlighted, with only 2% of employees happy to talk about the issue with management – a mere 330,000 – that leaves 16,170,000 people who won’t receive any sort of help because of the stigma, anxiety and potential employment-related issues that opening up about mental health can cause.
So, with millions of employees suffering from poor mental health, and a well-established financial and social benefit to ensuring the people who work for you are mentally healthy, it’d be easy to assume that this would be a priority for every single employer who have the resources to tackle the problem.
But this isn’t the case – far from it, in-fact. Incredibly, a recent Institute of Directors study found that just 17% (less than a fifth) of companies they surveyed offered mental health training for managers. With such a low level of training – and thus, it would be safe to assume, a low level of apathy, trust and understanding amongst managers with no training – it’s no wonder many people choose to keep their struggles to themselves. Many employees will be aware that their employer is totally unprepared and unable to help them.
If they broke their arm at work they’d receive all the help they needed to recover and return to work, but they know that suffering a breakdown due to stress or admitting to suffering from poor mental health would be unlikely receive the same level of care or understanding.
This huge disparity between the many millions suffering from a mental health issue in the workplace, and the meagre resources devoted to helping them, is in a nutshell the reason why so many people continue to suffer and will do for decades to come.
And even when solutions are offered, many rely on sticking plaster or placebo treatments such as CBT-based courses or well-meaning but largely ineffective awareness initiatives – we’re still stuck at the first fence of trying to break the taboo around mental health. The fact that 98% of employees feel unable to talk to their HR department about the issue says it all – with communication, there isn’t even a way of matching up any help available to where it’s needed.
Talking about mental health is good, and having the Duke of Cambridge speak out is undoubtedly positive, but it doesn’t help someone overcome anxiety, stress or depression in the long term. Until people like those 16,170,000 employees feel able to talk about their issues, and more than 17% of managers are equipped to really help them, this huge social and economic problem will continue.
But there is a solution. At Thrive In Business – our mental health training initiative for employers and employers – we have had enormous success working with all levels of industry, from big multinationals down to owner-managed SMEs, training their managers and key personnel to maintain and nurture great mental health in themselves and amongst their colleagues.
This preemptive model, where everyone is taught how their mental health works (and how to manage it using evidence-based tools) in a relaxed but informative training environment inoculates the workforce against mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It empowers them to be positive, happy and productive in their day-to-day work – and that’s good for the business and it’s employees.
It also starts to close the gap between the 16.17-million who are suffering – inclusive of the 98% who don’t want to talk to their employers about their issues – and the meagre 17% of managers who know how to help them.
The smaller that gap, the happier and more productive the UK workforce – and population in general – will be.