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With mental health being one of the most neglected areas of public health, this year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on the disruption mental health services have experienced in the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to one billion people are living with a mental health disorder. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a high degree of uncertainty and anxiety all around the world, which has had a profound effect on people’s mental health and compounded the mental health crisis at a global level.

Consequently, this year’s World Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness and show support for those suffering with poor mental health.

Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access

The 2020 World Mental Health Day campaign is being led by the World Federation for Mental Health and its partner organisations, United for Global Mental Health and the WHO.

The campaign focuses on highlighting the need for greater investment in mental health, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and seeking greater access to mental health services for those suffering.

“Let us hold hands and unify our voices in moving the mental health investment agenda for increased focus and access to mental health and thereby making mental health a reality for all – everyone, everywhere.” (World Federation for Mental Health, 2020)

In June 2020, the United Nations released a statement in support of the Secretary General’s Policy Brief on Covid-19. The statement declared the need for greater support for mental health and called for plans to ensure that the Government takes the necessary actions to mitigate the mental health impacts of Covid-19.

According to research conducted by Mind (the mental health charity) on over 16,000 people, more than half of the adults questioned and over two thirds of the younger population said that their mental health had deteriorated during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly during the ‘lockdown’ period. Additionally, those who had existing mental health problems said that, as a result of the same, their mental health had worsened.

Workplace Issues

People suffering from poor mental health often feel misunderstood, not only by their family and friends, but also by their employer. Unbeknown to most, mental health conditions may be considered a disability, especially if they have a long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities.

The Equality Act 2010 provides that it is against the law for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the grounds of a protected characteristic, with disability being defines as such. Employers must therefore be mindful when dealing with mental health issues in the workplace that they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help remove any substantial disadvantages employees experiencing mental health issues may face.

Supporting Employees

In light of the current pandemic, and particularly the UK Government’s U-turn in connection with remote working, employers should consider implementing a strategy to support employee mental health and well-being.

Many employers have had little choice but to ask employees to work from home for the last six months or place employees on furlough leave for all or part of that period. Now, with the prospect of further homeworking or part time working continuing for at least the next six months, it is likely that employers will see an increase in cases of employee stress, depression, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope, including loneliness and isolation. Supporting mental health was high on the Government’s agenda even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but it is now more important than ever.

Employers have a statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees while at work, as far as is reasonably practicable. Where mental health is concerned, this can be implemented by encouraging communication, offering additional support and training and signposting employees to sources of support. Employees can often feel a certain degree of unwillingness to disclose mental health struggles, particularly If they fear losing their job or appearing ‘weak’. Promoting the positive management of mental health will therefore not only indicate to employees that their employer is genuinely taking mental health seriously (which in turn, will lead to benefits including improved morale, productivity and loyalty) but will also promote the employer as an employer of choice.

Below, are some strategies employers can consider implementing to promote the positive management of mental health in the workplace effectively, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis:

  • Confidential counselling helpline/Employee Assistance Programme (EAP): EAP’s not only provide counselling helplines, but can provide support to employees dealing with personal or work related problems that may adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being.
  • Online Mental Health Awareness Training: Such courses build awareness of mental health, help individuals understand factors that affect mental health, help people feel more confident in starting mental health conversations and assist them in understanding how to look after their own mental health.
  • Buddy systems and peer support: Peer support allows colleagues to support one another outside the management structure and offers a great way to maximise the range of skills and experiences that exist within a business.
  • Signposting: For example NHS Every Mind Matters, Mental Health Foundation and Time to Change.

Employer mental health strategies may also promote the importance of:

  • Staying connected by phone or via video calling, which is even more important with large numbers of employees working remotely.
  • Encouraging employees to remember to switch off by reminding them they are not expected to be at work 24/7 and to take some time for exercise, rest and relaxation. Increased homeworking and always being ’on’ may lead to a rise in ‘presenteeism’, albeit working remotely, where employees are unable to disconnect from work.
  • Reminding employees they are still part of a team by maintaining contact via virtual means as this can help prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness and maintain team morale.
  • Encouraging employees to be honest and open about issues they might be facing and help them to find practical solutions to combat them.

Employers often associate poor mental health with home-life/personal issues and feel that it may not be appropriate, or indeed their responsibility, to intervene. It is however, important to remember that poor mental health is often due to a combination of work and non-work issues. It is therefore important that employers invest their time in employees and actively support those experiencing mental health issues, whatever the cause or trigger.

For more information on employee health and well-being and the impact of Covid-19 contact Victoria Regan or Amy White in Rix & Kay’s Employment Team.