National Picture (External Drivers)
Anxiety and depression are the top disabilities in the UK, and the World Health Organisation predict that anxiety will be the top disability globally by 2030. Whilst there is a more open discussion about mental health in society, the rates at which people are being diagnosed with poor mental health is not met with the same increase in research, treatments, and service provision. This has an impact on employers who may have a greater number of staff experiencing poor mental health for the first time and waiting for treatments. The cost to employers of not addressing mental health needs appropriately in the workplace is in higher rates of sickness, staff turnover, loss of productivity, recruitment costs, and talent. This is estimated at £30bn pounds a year.
Mental health at work is a government priority because of the high numbers of people with mental health needs and the cost to business and society when these needs are not addressed appropriately. The ‘Thriving at Work’ report commissioned by the Prime Minister makes specific recommendations for all employers to plan for and address mental health needs of staff, ranging from early interventions and signposting to wellbeing initiatives that support good mental health.
As well as the human and financial costs, mental health at work is also priority for employers from a liability point of view. This includes legal duties such as reasonable adjustments for mental health disabilities under The Equality Act 2010 and Health & Safety Executive requirements to risk assess and address workplace stress, and reducing mental health impacts arising from work that might lead to psychiatric injury (i.e safeguarding and serious incidents). Evidence from the Thriving at Work report, and other best practice examples, suggests that a positive and proactive approach by employers in addressing mental health at work can lead to increased productivity, less sick days, lower rates of staff turnover, and happier staff. It also saves lives.
Mental Health & Wellbeing: Context
Mental health in the context of the workplace requires definition. Everybody has mental health: this ranges from optimum to poor, and poor mental health can either be with or without a medical diagnosis. Employees who have a mental health need at work will fall within one of four categories, either before they start working or during:
- With a diagnosis and performing well because of coping mechanisms, treatment and reasonable adjustments
- With a diagnosis and in poor mental health (unwell)
- With no diagnosis and in optimum mental health
- With no diagnosis and in poor mental health (unwell) and not realise this (the highest risk of suicide and self-harm behaviours)
The mental health continuum for staff and what supports could be available following the right training:
Where an employee has a mental health disability, they can tell an employer about this and they can consider reasonable adjustments to remove substantial barriers at work arising from this. Most mental health disabilities disclosed at work will either be anxiety or depression, and require simple, no cost adjustments.
Most people at work will experience poor mental health at some point, whether at times of significant work or life stress or because of other short-term health issues or situations. In this case, poor mental health should still be addressed as a need at work, but not necessarily require short- or long-term reasonable adjustments.
An employee experiencing poor mental health does not automatically mean they cannot work. Employees will often have treatments and support in place already: medication, talking therapies, coping mechanisms, practical or employability support. The extent of these treatments and the phase at which their mental health is at will influence the reasonable adjustments you consider. Getting this right also supports a continued recovery from poor mental health, and can avoid a temporary issue becoming an ongoing one