Mental Health Awareness Week took place between 13 - 19 May 2019 and one of the focuses of this year was body image, more specifically how we think and feel about our bodies. 

While the annual theme highlighted by the Mental Health Foundation changes from year-to-year, what remains a constant is the stigma attached to mental health, even in this day and age. Individuals who are suffering from mental health issues are afraid or reluctant to speak about it. This suggests that within the structures of society there is still work to be done in terms of education and the implementation of practical steps to provide the necessary support to family, friends, colleagues and employees. Society as a whole is responsible if we wish to provide better support to those suffering from the this very serious condition. 

When asking the question of: what does mental health look like? I think there is a general consensus that there is no simple answer, no matter which way we look at it. Mental health can manifest itself in a person’s day-to-day life spreading across their personal and work life. It would be fair to say that the symptoms can vary greatly depending on the individual. Mind, the mental health charity, provides some helpful examples of the many types of mental health problems that existwhich include: 

- Depression (including post-natal depression, seasonal affective disorder) 

- Anxiety problems (including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder) 

- Phobias 

- Schizophrenia 

- Eating problems (such as binge eating, bulimia, anorexia) 

- Obsessive-compulsive disorder  

- Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression) 

- Personality disorders 

Looking at this from the perspective of businesses, there is still a lot of work to do in terms of raising awareness around the issue of mental health in the workplace, and this is across all industry sectors, including tech, financial services or law. A report from Deloitte published in March 2017 states that, In any one year, over one in four people in the general population and one in six workers is likely to be suffering from a mental health condition. With over 31 million people in work in the UK, this is equivalent to over five million workers who could be suffering from a mental health condition each year.’  

The report goes on to explain that, The average person spends 90,000 hours of their life working. Poor employee mental health can be due to factors internal or external to the workplace and, without effective management, can seriously impact employees’ productivity, career prospects and wider health. While there is increasing awareness of the impacts of poor employee mental health, there remains a disconnect between employers’ intentions and perceptions and what is actually happening in the workplace.’ 

Management teams, and ultimately the business owners themselves, have a duty to ensure that the wellbeing of their employees is a priority. Employees are the lifeblood of business and therefore it is important that businesses are investing the necessary time and money to create a safe and healthy environment within which their workers can operate.  

What can businesses do? Well, businesses who are looking to establish, implement and improve effective mental health policies have a myriad of options before them. They should be proactively taking steps to ensure the wellbeing of their employees and can achieve this by, for example, arranging mandatory and regular catch-ups for all employees with their line managers; conducting risk questionnaires; organising workshops for managers and employees; and nominating mental health champions in the workplace. 

Employees themselves then have a duty to make sure they are discussing the issue and engaging with workplace programmes, and at the end of the day it could be as simple as asking whether someone is OK.