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Press Release Now Is The Time For Wellbeing Programs To Focus On Mental Health

  • 18.01.2018
  • Adi Gaskell, Contributor to Forbes

Employee wellbeing is something that increasingly interests managers. Indeed, last year I revealed that the average employer is spending $693 per employee on well-being initiatives per year, with that figure typically rising around $100 per year. The majority of this investment was, however, going into physical health activities, whether it's the installation of gym facilities on site, or giving employees fitness trackers to monitor activity levels.

What is much less clear is whether such investment extends into mental health.  The Thriving At Work report for the British government revealed last year that some 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions lose their job in the UK each year.  It estimates around 15% of us have mental health worries at any one time, ranging from depression to stress.

“We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need. In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support," the authors say.

This was corroborated by data from the AXA PPP Health Tech Survey 2017, which revealed that 41% of employees have experienced symptoms of mental illness at work.  This matters, because the Thriving At Work report suggests that untreated mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year through things such as absenteeism and lower productivity.

Will your employer help?

Sadly, many of these problems remain hidden at work.  A study a few years ago by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that nearly 40 percent of employees would try and cover up a mental health issue from their manager if they could.

Amongst the cohort who revealed a strong reluctance to share their health issues with their boss, the majority believed it would prove detrimental to their careers. Other reasons revealed included knowledge of how ‘coming out’ had gone for colleagues, the fear of losing good friends or a general combination of factors. Indeed, a large number believed their mental health problems were not affecting their work, so there was no need to tell their boss.

Similar numbers were revealed in the AXA PPP data, although of those that did share their worries, 71% had received support from their employer.  This suggests that there is a willingness among employers to do more, and that was certainly a conclusion from the Thriving At Work report, which outlined six 'core standards' for employers to strive for:

  1. Produce a mental health at work plan that is not only implemented but well communicated to staff
  2. Develop greater mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health, and especially the support that's available to employees
  4. Provide good working conditions to employees and ensure that they have a healthy work/life balance
  5. Promote strong people management so that employees are supported
  6. Routinely monitor mental health and wellbeing among employees

It's interesting to note that despite many wellbeing programs deploying technology to help employees, most of the recommendations from the report are towards the lower tech end of the spectrum.  Indeed, many would probably be classified as simply good management.

Helping yourself

That's not to say that mental health apps don't have a place, and indeed research from Brigham Young University highlights not only how effective they can be, but also how they are increasingly popular among people attempting to help themselves.

“Our findings show that mental and emotional health focused apps have the ability to positively change behavior,” the authors say. “This is great news for people looking for inexpensive, easily accessible resources to help combat mental and emotional health illness and challenges.”

You've also got services like the Good Thinking Digital Wellbeing Service, which was launched by 32 London NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and a majority of London Borough Councils.

The service, which is available 24/7, aims to provide digital services to support people with their self-care.  It aims to help users find the right apps to support their unique circumstances, whilst also offering a wellbeing self-assessment test.

At a recent roundtable hosted by AXA Health Tech & You, there was a clear sense that we are making progress on this issue, both in removing the stigma attached to mental health at work, and also in the provision of support to help employees.  This is a hugely important step to make as the economic data is clear as to the benefits tackling this issue can bring.  The ball is now firmly in our court.

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