Figures last month from HSE show that 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. And over that period, 12.5 million working days were lost due to these conditions.
A staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. And this is just the direct result – there are millions more days lost to a whole host of other conditions and illnesses that are related to, or exacerbated by stress, from Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders, to psoriasis colds and even alcohol and substance misuse.
Understanding the issues facing people with mental health problems and the importance of making reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate their needs is vital for unions and employers.
What can be done?
A good starting point is getting people to talk about their own mental health. For too long people feared mockery if they spoke about their problems. One of the best things to happen in recent years is that the silence has been broken. More people are now talking about the difficulties of managing everyday life pressures.
Trade unions recognise that mental health is an important trade union activity and function: health and safety; conduct; performance; workplace relationships; equality issues; ill health; learning and training; union workplace democracy; and many others. Most reps and members will know somebody with a common mental health problem. There will be members in every union, every branch and every workplace affected by mental health problems.
TUC Education are providing a number of Mental Health Awareness courses for union reps across the country over the next couple of months. These will help reps get to grips with the issues and increase their understanding of mental health at work.
Stress and anxiety are by far the most common issues identified by workers in workplaces across the whole of the country. So, I’m very proud that the Northern TUC coordinates the North East Better Health at Work Award (BHAWA), a public programme focussed on health issues within the workplace. It currently has nearly 400 employers participating and investing in workers’ health wellbeing, including a dedicated focus on mental health reaching around 250,000 thousand North East workers. Trade union reps and health advocates run great campaigns which include signing up to the Time to Change Pledge - encourages an open culture where people can feel safe talking about their mental health; implementing mental wellbeing policies; holding toolbox talks; encouraging exercise and good nutrition; organising mindfulness sessions and training Mental Health First aiders.
We need more funding in mental health services
PHE published figures which highlighted that for every £1 invested in workplace stress prevention there was a ROI of £2. When it comes to a holistic programme like the BHAWA, there is a very strong case that EVERYTHING you do around health and wellbeing is investing in workplace stress prevention.
Trade unions and the Northern Public Service Alliance have been arguing for years that our mental health services are in crisis. We desperately need more funding for acute services. But for our mental health services to be sustainable for decades ahead, we need to tackle mental ill-health when it first starts to be felt. Stress in the workplace is often an early sign of deteriorating mental health. If we can tackle it before it becomes more serious, not only will it be better for individuals affected, but also for the NHS as a whole.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, I hope every North East employer will take part and sign up to the Better Health at Work Award if they haven’t already!
Download Mental health and the workplace (pdf)
Interactive guide Mental Health in the Workplace eNote (you will need to register to login)