Surviving and thriving: supporting mental health in the workplace

Imagine you work in a company which has a mature, open and safe environment where staff feel comfortable to tell colleagues and managers their struggles with mental ill health. You could count yourself amongst a growing but still alarmingly low number of the ‘lucky ones’ - you are already in a scenario that is better than the one experienced every day by the majority of the UK workforce. 

Imagine now that a member of your team comes to you and says they are going through an acute depression episode and that, right then and there with you in that tiny one-to-one room where you are meeting, they are having self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Would you know what to do? Would you feel prepared to deal with this conversation? Would you be equipped to help the person in crisis who is desperately asking for your help? Or would you be in the 90% of line managers who felt they had not received sufficient training to deal with mental ill health problems at work? Would this increase your own chances of suffering from anxiety and stress? 

Removing the stigma around mental ill health has been one of the most highlighted themes in recent months, with a clear focus around enabling individuals to have open discussions about mental ill health, encouraging, and shaping the environment for more people to come forward and share their experiences and ask for help and support from those around them. As these campaigns are starting to yield the positive results we are all hoping for and working towards, the second party to the mental ill health discussion should not be forgotten as an area too where more needs to be done. Are we ready to support, on a personal as well as collective basis, those that come forward about their mental ill health? 

All social entities, at micro and macro level, should be prepared to rise up to the challenge and opportunity provided by increased numbers of conversations surrounding mental ill health. The employment social context needs to be at the forefront of this.

The workplace is where we spend most of our time, and, if the environment is right, it is where we can thrive and get a sense of achievement, a sense of purpose, and where we create valuable social networks. If we are to improve the mental health outcomes of our society, we need to leverage the workplace setting. We need to look at ways in which companies can develop preventative strategies, ensuring the right life-work balance, developing a holistic understanding of wellness and encouraging staff to look after both their physical and mental wellbeing. A range of health and protection insurance benefits can help support employers in identifying the solutions that work best for their workforce. Training line managers and empowering HR professionals, who can then give line managers the support they need, should be business as usual for employers, large and small across the country.

Employers of all sizes and from all sectors should be prepared to support their staff through periods of crisis when they are not able to work due to mental ill health, by providing them access to early rehabilitation and offering them a financial safety net if they need to be off for longer periods of time. Income protection can and does help with this, with results that benefit employees as well as employers. 

As an industry who helps employers and employees to cope with the impact of mental ill health, we too are affected by mental ill health. Today, we need to renew our commitment to improve outcomes in this space and to lead by example. 

As I write this, the ABI is starting its week-long activity to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. To raise awareness and improve understanding, we have two training sessions for all staff, led by Mind. Reflecting on the positive relationship between the physical and mental well-being, we have organised a cycle-athon and yoga classes, to raise money for Mind, our charity partner this year. We have recently joined Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, to deepen our understanding of the health risks affecting our employees and to better understand how these could be mitigated, and, today, we are committing to mental health training offered to all our line managers by the end of 2017. And, of course, we continue to advocate the invaluable contribution made by protection insurance products, the benefits of which are well documented and which we enjoy in our own organisation. 

Last updated 08/05/2017