David Watt: Mental health issues must be joint effort

Each year 105 million UK working days are lost to mental health issues from stress to chronic depression and everything in between
Each year 105 million UK working days are lost to mental health issues from stress to chronic depression and everything in between
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Just last month a story went viral on social media when an employee tweeted that she was ‘…taking a couple of days to focus on my mental health’. It wasn’t the fact she did this that made the post burn up the internet – it was the response of her boss.

‘Thank you for sending the e-mail’ her supportive CEO said, adding that it reminded him that mental health should be treated as any other illness, and that support is required by bosses to ‘help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work’.

What a leader.

The story, and the overwhelming admiration for the CEO, reminded me that mental health is an issue that touches all of us at some point, either personally or through the people that we know and how we deal with it says everything about who we are – as a person, a friend, a leader or a colleague.

And of course, it’s not something that can be switched off at work. On the contrary, working environments can exacerbate the issue. When the IoD surveyed members, it found that 54 per cent have been approached by staff suffering mental ill health. Given the frantic pace at which most of us live our lives, it is little wonder that this issue has begun to dwarf other wellness concerns of the 21st century.

The good mental health of workers is surely central to the performance of an organisation, yet when was the last time you talked about the issue with your team, or your board?

Large companies have adapted more quickly to increase awareness of mental health and offer support to staff, but many smaller, more stretched companies do not feel they have the resources to do so. At the moment, when so many things are up in the air, it seems that mental health might be an issue that comes far down an ever-increasing list.

Leaders, managers and boards should have an awareness of mental health issues, and the impact on workers, and dare I say it, their productivity too. When shareholder value is a significant driving force behind the business, anything that impacts it should be addressed to effect marginal gain. Mental health is an intrinsic part of the health and safety of workers, and good mental health is good for the economy.

At the IoD, we don’t often call for more government intervention in business matters, but this is an area where some support would be welcome. Helping to arm business owners with the tools they need to develop mental health policies would be a good start – as many just don’t know where to begin.

Each year, 105 million UK working days are lost to mental health issues from stress to chronic depression and everything in between. The cost is a staggering £1.24 billion. In the view of the World Health Organisation, mental illness will overtake cancer and heart disease to become the biggest burden on global healthcare resources within 15 years.

Government does have a role to play, but tackling mental health is a joint effort between politicians, businesses and the medical profession. As leaders, we must be prepared to take the first step that others will follow. Whether this means being mindful of our own well-being, or supportive to others by creating a structure and culture in which workers can thrive, putting mental health on the agenda is good for business.

David Watt is executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland