Today is World Mental Health Day, which focuses this year on early adulthood.
For the trade union movement, this means thinking about people who are just starting their working lives – how we can support them as well as our wider membership.
We already know that people with disabilities face a massive employment gap, with only 50% in work.
Sadly, things are even worse for people with mental health issues.
Only 46 per cent of those who have depression and bad nerves are in jobs, and this falls to just 33.7 per cent for people with mental illness, phobias or panics.
Clearly, not enough is being done to make workplaces supportive and accessible, or to ensure going to work doesn’t make mental ill health even worse.
There are many ways in which work can exacerbate poor mental health.
Redundancies, reorganisations, overwhelming workloads, being expected to do more with less, low paid jobs, discrimination or the uncertainty of zero-hour contracts can all make things worse.
That’s why trade unions recognise mental health as a workplace issue, and it’s why this has been the agenda at all the TUC’s equality conferences and our annual Congress.
Workers should be able to thrive in the workplace, but only if employers take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes. Every employer should be doing this.
We also want to empower reps to support members with poor mental health, and to support our members to take care of their mental health.
But the first step to helping is to take moment to recognise that, just like we all have physical health, we can all have mental health and that sometimes we feel well and sometimes we feel unwell.
Once you understand that, it’s easier to understand how an individual with a serious mental health problem can still thrive at work – as long as they get the right support.
As trade unionists, it’s our job to make sure employers take care of our members’ mental health. But while trade unions are definitely part of the solution, you can be too.
Try to involve work colleagues with mental health problems in designing and running a campaign to increase awareness about mental health and its causes.
Provide information on practical solutions and examples of good practice to increase understanding of mental health in workplaces and the community.
It’s also good to try to dispel myths and fears about people with mental health problems by encouraging them to talk about their experiences and become active in their workplace, communities and union
Finally, you can engage with charities and local support or campaign groups to build relationships and access support and services.