Written by Sophie Wahba and

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Anyone can suffer a period of mental ill health. It can emerge suddenly and be short in duration. Conversely, it can emerge gradually and worsen over time. Following Mental Health Awareness Week, we have taken a look at what “mental health” really means and what employers can do to support the positive the mental wellbeing of its staff.

What is mental health and how is it affected?

ACAS defines mental health as our “emotional, psychological and social wellbeing; it affects how we think, feel and act and how we cope with the normal pressures of every day life”. The guidance also provides that mental health is “rarely an absolute state” and people may continually move up or down a spectrum ranging from good to poor.

Factors both inside and outside of work can affect a person’s mental health. These may include:

  • Financial difficulties;
  • Health difficulties;
  • A recent trauma or relationship breakdown;
  • An unhealthy work-life balance;
  • Poor relationships at work;
  • Job insecurity;

There is still a stigma surrounding mental ill health. People sometimes feel that they cannot be open and honest out of fear that they may be judged or discriminated against. In turn, this can worsen a person’s state of mental wellbeing. An organisation that takes positive steps to promote and support positive mental health can help to tackle this stigma and encourage people to talk openly and seek help when needed.

Encouraging positive mental health at work

Whether a person’s mental health is caused by factors inside or outside of the workplace (or both), employers should take positive action to promote positive mental health. The ACAS guidance states that it is in an employer’s interests to improve awareness, tackle the causes of work-related mental ill health and create a culture where staff can talk about their mental health.

Whatever the size of the organisation, employers should be equipped to support individuals with a mental health condition from the point of recruitment throughout their period of employment. With a view to achieving this, organisations should:

  • Implement “mental health plans” at work;
  • Develop awareness within the workplace;
  • Encourage open conversations and continue talking about mental health;
  • Provide positive working conditions and encourage a healthy work-life balance;
  • Monitor staff wellbeing and address any concerns;
  • Provide regular training;

A survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that mental ill health (and stress) were amongst some of the most common causes of long-term absence from work. By implementing the support mechanisms set out above, organisations can work collaboratively with their staff to improve mental wellbeing.

The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. This is the state of mental health that we should all strive to achieve.

18th October 2019