At the start of the year, Theresa May announced a strategy to transform mental health support.
“This is a historic opportunity,” she said, “for all of us to change the way we view mental illness so that striving to improve mental wellbeing is seen as just as natural, positive and good as striving to improve our physical wellbeing”.
The campaign to treat mental health as sensitively and seriously as we do physical health has been intensifying for some years now. It is crucial that this continues, for the sake of both individual welfare, and the economy. A new report commissioned by the Prime Minister, entitled Thriving At Work, estimates that 300,000 people leave their jobs each year because of mental health issues.
The scale of the problem costs employers £42bn, and the UK economy £99bn annually. While the report does not specifically mention the City, it is well-known that the fast-paced, high-stress sector can be an exacerbating factor in cases of poor mental health, and that in the past businesses were not always the most understanding about these kinds of issues.
Fortunately, significant progress is being made.
This month saw Mental Health Awareness Day, with companies across the country taking the opportunity to listen to their employees and consider how to foster a culture of understanding and awareness. The City Mental Health Alliance has been doing excellent work, with leading City firms from a range of sectors dedicated to increasing understanding of mental health, and educating employees at all levels about how to support their colleagues.
Of course, more can be done, and there are key policy recommendations in the report too – including creating a mental health plan, making support resources accessible, and encouraging ongoing dialogues at work. May herself has urged the public sector to implement these steps, and private sector firms should take note – if they don’t already have their own systems in place. The culture is changing, for the better, and it is heartening to see the government making this a priority. Now what remains is for public attitudes to catch up, and that starts in the office, with managers and colleagues who understand the issues and are equipped to discuss them openly and sensitively.
As with physical health, mental health is a wide spectrum. Serious illness can afflict any of us, but recognising seemingly milder symptoms is a vital part of improving the health of corporate Britain.