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Employees come up against stigma when asking for mental health support at work

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15,000 employees across 46 organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors in England have fed into a new report on the current state of mental health support in the workplace. 

It has been published by Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The research found that nearly one in five people have experienced adverse treatment when asking for support for mental health problems, including forced time off, breaches of confidentiality, removal of important work tasks and discriminatory behaviour towards the individual. The ‘Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces’ report is the result of organisational health checks carried out by Time to Change between 2013 and 2015 across various sectors including financial services, utility companies, NHS Trusts, communication organisations and national charities. The report includes examples of good practice as well as negative experiences from employees. It also contains real life case studies of employers who have begun to create a culture where staff feel able to be open about their mental health. 

As part of the organisational health checks, staff with and without experience of mental health problems were asked a number of questions. The findings revealed: 37 percent of employees had taken time off work because of stress, low mood or poor mental health. 59 percent of employees working in the public or private sector thought that their employer or line manager would be supportive if they disclosed their mental health issue. Only 31 percent of employees with experience of mental health problems have disclosed their mental health problems to their employer of manager; Many fear discrimination upon disclosing e.g. creating career-limiting bias on their official record – a fear which is perceived as a real threat for many employees. Following the health checks, recommendations were made to the employers about how they could improve their policies, practices and work culture. These recommendations have been broken down into key stages in the report to help any organisation to assess their own practices to tackle stigma and support employees with mental health problems. A senior manager working in the financial services industry comments in the report: “We want to do what is right, fair and practical. We can’t magic up a new job. But we can employ reasonable adjustments: change targets, change where they sit, offer alternative jobs.” 

Andrew Ormerod, who has experienced depression, talks about his experience of disclosure in the workplace: “I was nervous about disclosing my mental health problem to my previous employer but it actually went ok; as long as I delivered my work they didn’t mind. However, everything changed when I had a breakdown. When I was off work, I wouldn’t hear anything back if I emailed to update about my recovery. I felt I was slowly being pushed away at a time when I really wanted to know I had their support. When I was ready to return to work, I was told I was no longer capable of doing the role and I was essentially demoted. I decided that it was probably better for me not to go back and they made the process of leaving really stressful, which was sad. “I’m now working somewhere new and I disclosed my mental health status very early on. 

We have very open culture: you can be honest with people about the things that are going on for you, and people are understanding – although there’s no pressure to share anything if you don’t want to. Sarah Restall, Employer Manager at Time to Change, said: “Time to Change has been working for the past three years to support organisations to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace. We conducted 46 in-depth health checks to assess employees and managers experiences of dealing with mental health problems and the support that is on offer in the workplace. ‘Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces’ brings these findings together alongside recommendations from specialist consultants. While many employees feel supported where their mental health is concerned, there are still many who would not feel comfortable disclosing their needs for fear of being discriminated against. Our aim is that employers will be able to use this practical report to support their own movement towards creating a culture where staff feel able to talk about mental health, and help them to support any employee who may be experiencing a mental health problem.”

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