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How can businesses tackle mental health?

WE Communications Blog: Health

10/10/2017
— Rob Littlewood 

According to figures from the World Health Organisation, suicide now kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer's. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, assault, gun crime – combined. One in four people will be affected by mental health at some point in their lifetime.

I recently picked up these figures from a book by the novelist Matthew Haig, about his struggles with mental health and how close he was to giving up. Had he done so, he would not have been around to present us with the enjoyment of such projects as his latest novel ‘How to Stop Time’, soon to be adapted to the big screen featuring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mental health is serious – and it doesn’t discriminate. It’s also often incredibly difficult to spot those suffering. Fortunately, over the past few years, individuals, businesses and the government have taken mental health more seriously. The stigma of a) acknowledging the problem and b) having the confidence to talk about it and seek help, is slowly dissipating. Despite this, the rate of male suicide has jumped almost threefold over the past decade (while female suicide has decreased). Perhaps another way to articulate this, is that 76 per cent of UK suicides are male. There’s clearly more work to be done.

Often, help can come in the form of peers and friends – we mustn't feel obliged to spend money on therapists or professionals, although those do help, of course. But it is key to feel that you can speak up about your experiences.

In this regard, organisations have a responsibility to build an open and supportive space, they must take initiative to pledge to defeat this stigma for both the sake of their employees' wellbeing, and the success of the company. Everyone knows that a happier workplace, with engaged and fulfilled individuals is endearing, and leads to greater success as an organisation. In fact, investing in mental health initiatives can save a great deal of money in the process. In the United States, organisations are reportedly saddled with an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually, direct or indirect, as a result of mental health and addiction. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that roughly two thirds of companies lack a clearly defined wellbeing strategy.

It's all well and good talking about working towards alleviating this problem, but how might we do it? For starters, the biggest hurdles for us are to:

  • Increase awareness
  • Defeat stigma
  • Build a culture of acceptance

How to confront these? There’s no definitive answer, but I’d like to propose that we

  • Get everyone involved
  • Ensure role models and leadership encourage colleagues to speak up, and drive initiatives
  • We all place an emphasis, and an empathy on the subject – for all of us, not just those who consider themselves one of the four

Current initiatives at organisations include exercise programmes, education on mindfulness (see Headspace, recently recommended by Sheryl Sandberg), resilience training on managing stress, employee counselling services, and a growing trend in flexible hours and working conditions.

This is positive progress, and other organisations must follow suit to improve the situation. Every small step is a great contribution towards defeating the growth of this problem.

Below are a series of useful links.

For employers:

 For employees, those that are struggling, or even if you are simply interested:

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