It’s time to talk about mental health:

The stats on mental health issues are astounding. Mental health is an incredibly diverse topic, but it is one we really need to get comfortable talking about. Extensive research has shown that one in four adults, and one in ten children will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Only around a quarter of sufferers will seek professional health, so the majority of people are suffering in silence.

Mental health problems are the most common disease in the UK and account for 28% of the total disease burden, compared 16% each for cancer and heart disease. Mental health problems are also the largest single source of economic loss in the world, with an estimated global cost of £1.6 trillion. Despite this, mental health only receives 5.5% of total UK health research spending.

The consequences of silence on this evidently enormous issue is potentially catastrophic. Well evidenced information is essential to increase understanding, and to make suffering from a mental illness to be no harder to talk about than suffering from any other medical condition. Understanding is essential to undermine the stigma, fear and prejudice that still exist around mental health, before there are consequences.

Why is there a stigma about mental health?

Stigmatisation is one of the greatest challenges faced by people suffering with mental health issues. People worry that talking about a mental health problem will affect all aspects of employment including job selection, training and getting promoted. The statistics show that people are right to think that revealing a mental illness to an employer or potential employer will be detrimental to their careers. A survey of 2082 UK adults revealed that 56% of people wouldn’t hire someone suffering from depression, even if they were the best applicant. Employees returning from sick leave due to mental health are more likely to be demoted or face invasive interviews compared with workers returning after suffering from a physical injury.

The stigma attached to mental illness makes it a tricky topic for some sufferers to bring up. This contributes to the lack of understanding that is widespread throughout the work place. Feeling unable to talk leads to further isolation, which is really bad for mental health. Contact between people is extremely important for people, especially when they are facing difficult issues. It’s no wonder that people with a mental illness are the least likely to be able to hold down jobs or relationships, when they feel they have to hide part of who they are.

Recognising the signs of an employee struggling from a mental health disorder may enable colleagues or employers to step in, helping prevent further problems. If someone in your work place exhibits the following signs:

·        Taking a lot of sick days – regular short term absences that are not accompanied by a doctor’s note could indicate a mental health problem. People will very rarely cite a mental illness as the reason for absence, instead they will complain of other mild illnesses.

·        Having grievances against the organisation – unhappy employees are far more likely to complain, particularly about individuals or a heavy workload. Anxiety and stress due to bullying or burnout can cause mental illness on their own, or exacerbate underlying problems such as eating disorders or inflammatory diseases such as IBS.

·        Low employee engagement – people with low job satisfaction lose motivation at work. This could be because they just don’t like their job/boss/manager, or they could have a mental illness.

Obviously mental health is a diverse and complex issue. There are many forms of mental illness, and every individual experiences it differently. Normalising mental illness is really important to enable people suffering to talk about their feelings, and feel comfortable with seeking help. Mental health affects a worryingly large number of us, but stigmatising it makes it harder for sufferers to recover. Understanding is key for all of us, so the time has come to talk about mental health. In future blogs we’ll discuss different problems, and what to do if you think you, a friend, or a colleague is suffering with a mental health problem.