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Improving mental health in the workplace

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Today is World Mental Day – an event dedicated to global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma over mental ill-health regardless of context. Public initiatives like this play an important role in encouraging people to properly understand the issues and symptoms surrounding mental health and how they can be effectively addressed. The timing of this event couldn’t be more important, particularly here in the UK where mental health in the workplace is an issue in urgent need of more attention.

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The Prime Minister’s 2017 ‘Thriving for Work’ report shed some light on the gravity of the problem when it revealed that a staggering 300,000 people lose their jobs each year due to mental health problems. And the cost on the overall economy is not insignificant either. In fact, according to Deloitte, up to £99 billion is lost each year as a result.

Negative stigma continues to surround the topic, preventing many of those who are struggling with mental health problems from speaking out. This is especially true of people working within high-pressure professions, where the stress of a demanding job is most likely to take a toll on a worker’s mental wellbeing.

The healthcare and finance services are but two of the many professions where mental health is still largely considered a ‘taboo’. Unfortunately, this has severe repercussions on the wellbeing of employees, as highlighted by the tragic suicides by junior doctors within the NHS over the past few years. Meanwhile, according to research, jobs in financial services are 44% more likely to lead to stress-related illnesses than the average UK job.

Clearly, much more needs to be done to encourage open discussions about mental health within the workplace. Luckily, the rise of HealthTech and the availability of online resources provides valuable avenues of support for those struggling with mental ill-health.

What prevents people from seeking help?

It’s important firstly to understand what obstacles stand in the way of those who need help. For many professionals, the biggest hindrance is the negative stigma that is still attached to the topic of mental health.

In fact, the 2017 Mental Health at Work Report found that while three out of every five employees (60%) had experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work, around three out of every four employees with a mental health issue chose not to involve any of their colleagues or superiors.

The main barriers cited were a reluctance to ‘make it formal’ (identified by 33%) and fears of negative consequences (29%). Unfortunately, the problem of mental ill-health is only growing, with almost 30% of businesses surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce saying that they had seen an increase in the number of employees affected by mental health issues in the last three years.

In many cases the negative stigma comes from misconceptions and a poor understanding of the issue. And while many employers are starting to approach mental health as a priority within the workplace, the mental health charity Mind discovered that a third of all employees struggle to find the information they need to correctly support the mental health of their employees.

For other professionals, the greatest barrier is simply a lack of time. Constrained by long working hours and tight deadlines, it is often a challenge for people in full-time jobs to find the time to see a mental health professional.

This is compounded by the fact that few services offer appointments outside of conventional working hours, which means that professionals are often precluded from seeing a therapist after work or on weekends. Meanwhile, the waiting times are often lengthy, with many people referred to mental health professionals from the NHS having to wait weeks before being able to speak to a therapist.

Where can professionals get help?

Luckily, there are a number of resources and services that are readily available to working professionals in need of support or advice.

Online resources can be a great source of information for employers looking to promote wellbeing at work. In partnership with Mind, Prince William’s Mental Health at Work project, for example, utilises technology to improve accessibility to online resources. An online portal to resources, this website provides employers with information and training that can be utilised to raise awareness amongst staff and promote open discussion.

With a lack of information cited as a barrier to implementing support mechanisms within the workplace, Prince William’s new initiative aims to make it easier for employers to obtain the information they need to create an open workplace culture and properly support employees.

Taking advantage of HealthTech

HealthTech solutions include the emergence of live video technology, which allows employees to discreetly obtain the support they need though their smart phone, tablet or computer. Services like Mynurva, for instance, offer an online platform which enables people to receive counselling via a live video call.

What’s more, this innovation provides the convenience of quick booking and flexible appointment times – which means that professionals can make appointments after 5pm and on weekends. These online alternative sources of support are crucial for those who require complete confidentiality, to give professionals the much-needed freedom to openly discuss mental health concerns without fear of negative reactions from their colleagues.

HealthTech solutions should thus be taken advantage of to stop people suffering in silence. Particularly with the rise of poor mental health across all professions, it is important to utilise resources that could improve understanding about mental health symptoms and the available support mechanisms. And for those that remain hesitant about speaking out within the workplace, the wide accessibility of live video technology can prove extremely valuable.

Given the gravity of the problem in terms of both individual wellbeing and the wider economy, it’s vital to take proactive steps to address mental ill-health within the workplace such as embracing HealthTech solutions. Removing the remaining stigma surrounding mental health should therefore be a top priority for all employers to encourage a supportive workplace environment where employees feel comfortable speaking out about their struggles. This year’s World Mental Health Day is an ideal opportunity to begin this conversation.

Having worked as a GP for several years, Dr Zain Sikafi founded Mynurva to improve access to mental health support. Mynurva provides fast access to therapy or counselling, confidentially, securely and discreetly, via its live video platform. There are no waiting rooms, no travelling is required, and the service is confidential, discrete and secure.

Dr Zain Sikafi, CEO and co-founder, Mynurva

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