One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any year. In the workplace, one in six of British workers will experience a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress every year. Despite mental health problems being so common, there is still a stigma attached to them. Around nine in ten people with a mental health problem say they experience some form of discrimination. In particular, it can be difficult to talk about a mental health problem at work. In the latest ‘National attitudes to mental illness’ survey (2013), nearly half of the public say they would be uncomfortable talking to their employer about a mental health problem.
Despite this, public attitudes towards people with mental health problems are improving and more and more people in different sectors are talking openly about having experienced mental health problems, which is helping to shift public perceptions. Research by Mind, a mental health charity, shows that one in five people have taken a day off work because of stress and one in ten people have even resigned, so employers are beginning to recognise the need to address the issue.
Time to Change is England’s campaign to end mental health stigma and discrimination, run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. One of the major areas of focus for the campaign has been supporting employers to improve their policy and practice around mental health, creating an environment where it is easier for all employees to speak openly about mental health and well-being and, in particular, making sure that those who have a mental health problem are supported by their employer and their colleagues.
So far, 325 employers, including Lundbeck and Janssen UK, have signed up to the Time to Change employer pledge, with an action plan for addressing mental health stigma in the workplace. And their work is having an impact; the employers who have pledged have seen a 14% increase in staff talking about mental health problems at work.
Deciding whether and how to start talking about one’s own mental health at work is a personal decision. Since there remains a stigma attached to mental health problems, many people assume that employers and colleagues will react negatively, but there are laws in place to protect them at work if they are considered to be disabled because of a mental health problem. Nevertheless, they may still want to think about the risks and benefits before making a decision.
Time to Change, as well as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, have resources and information that can help you think about this, as well as tips and advice for employers and line managers about supporting employees who have mental health problems.
As well as the workplace, Time to Change aims to get conversations about mental health started in a whole range of everyday places so that talking about it becomes part of community life, rather than a taboo. The campaign offers free resources and materials to display to get the message out there that it’s time to talk.
Kate Nightingale is head of communications of Time to Change.