The World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day was observed on 10th October – and gives us the opportunity to pause and think about how we can better support those who are struggling with their mental health.
I am increasingly persuaded that we need to address mental health issues in a more systematic way, not simply counting on people to recognize their own symptoms and being able to take some action on their own. Better wrap-around care is needed, which takes all aspects of our home and working lives into account.
First of all we need to understand that many people experience mental health issues of varying degrees of severity, the vast majority of whom are able to work and add great value to the economy.
A recent report from the UK found that the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP. Yes, this is people who are back to work with, or after, mental health issues…. If anyone has this data for workers in the US, I would be very interested to see it.
Next we need to know what we can do, perhaps working with employers to help them monitor the mental health environment across their workforces. Much of this is at the macro-level, but can help employers ‘nip’ potential issues in the bud. For example, a stressed and under resourced team exhibited high stress scores in their last wellness check, however when a new recruit is added to the team we can show the reduction in stress levels across a team.
A report funded by the Australian Financial Services Council found that mental health has to become more embedded into employment policies and practices. The report states, “Essentially, protection of mental health, prevention of mental health difficulties and appropriate responses to mental illness have become intrinsic components of an evolving contemporary model of ‘business as usual’.”
Employers in Australia are already recognizing the impact this will have on their businesses and how they can respond.
In Canada, a Morneau Shepell study earlier this year reported seeing a decrease in stigma associated with mental health, so maybe our Canadian friends are also making progress!
So far we have seen relatively little progress from the US on mental health in the workplace, there are lots of studies, but not much action so far!
In the UK, Jim Harris, Managing Director of HCB Group, runs a highly innovative early intervention program specifically designed to help with mental health and absence with non-medical/social determinants. The HCB program helps employees right at the beginning of a period of absence, rather than waiting until a disability claim has developed.
The industry needs more programs like this, taking the results from tools like The Claim Lab’s mental health questionnaire to apply the necessary interventions much earlier in the process.
Ok, so what’s next?… We should take a deep breath … and we need to make the transition from early intervention to actual prevention!