Mental health has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, at least in part because it has become clear the huge cost to businesses and the economy as a whole.
Every year 1 in 5 people in the UK will experience a mental issue. As most people are uncomfortable discussing their mental health this can often lead to presenteeism – where people attend work, but are too unwell to be completely productive.
We are often aware of the effects of one of our colleagues being away from work due to illness, either because we have to pick up their workload or try and work around their absence. The cost of absenteeism also is a known quantity - £18 billion to the UK economy. Presenteeism is much harder to pin down, if someone is not acknowledging their own issues, how can we measure the number of people affected let alone the cost from lost productivity? It is estimated that the cost to the economy nearly £55 billion a year in lost productivity.
As someone who has experienced a long absence from work due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (currently classed as somewhere between a physical and mental issue), I fully understand the dilemma a mental health issue puts employees in. Before you have a diagnosis and a treatment plan you struggle to judge what counts as too ill to be at work. The British have a long history of having a stiff upper lip, and often we soldier on a lot longer than we should. It is hard to admit we need help.
Mental Health at Work CIC recently came to Big Society Capital to deliver a session on mental health and it was an interesting and challenging session. They challenged us to look at how we react to Mental Health issues - do we call them problems? Do we ask people how their mental health is? If someone is absent, do we react the same to physical and mental reasons? By opening up the conversation around mental health, we then give people the opportunity to be open about their issues, and to feel more comfortable taking the time to heal when needed.
I was lucky, my colleagues at Big Society Capital supported me throughout my long route to diagnosis, and once I was signed off of work, carefully balanced making sure I felt they wanted me back, without piling on the pressure to return too soon. I might have this condition for the rest of my life, and something I have had to adjust my life around. Work is the place we spend most of our waking hours, so it is important we feel happy and healthy there. I am glad to say as I build my way back to full time in the office, I could not be happier to be back.
Since my return I have made a conscious decision to be open about my CFS, it is a part of who I am. It’s due to the support of my colleagues that I’ve felt Big Society Capital is a safe place to do this. Only a small number of people disclose their mental illness to employers, as few as 11%. It is important we think about how we, as individuals, interact with those who experience mental health issues, a company can have good policies in place, but it is the individuals you sit with every day, who make the difference between a supportive and a judgemental environment.