Employers urged to be more transparent around workplace mental health

By Raspberry Jim,

Employers across Wales are being urged to adopt more transparent attitudes to mental health as it’s revealed one in six workers struggle with the issue.

Leading mental health expert at CJCH Solicitors Keith James is calling on businesses to become more proactive and inclusive in supporting staff dealing with issues including depression, stress, and anxiety in the workplace.

Mr James, whose specialist firm has the largest mental health law department in South Wales, is speaking out ahead of World Mental Health Day on Tuesday. The global initiative, which aims to create a worldwide discussion surrounding mental illness, is this year highlighting the reality of mental health in the workplace.

This comes as Welsh Government figures have recently revealed that 90% of employees who take time off work due to stress, instead gave another reason for their absence, such as a stomach upset or headache. While the statistics also reveal that one in six workers is struggling with these issues.

No-one dealing with the daily struggle of depression, anxiety, or stress should be left to suffer silently for fear of discrimination. Equally, workers should not be afraid to speak to managers about mental health-related absences.

Introducing change must start from the top. Managers must adopt more transparent attitudes towards mental health as a priority, in order to encourage a culture of inclusivity and openness throughout the Welsh business economy.

I am delighted to see that workplace mental health will form the basis of this year’s World Mental Health Day, as I feel this is an issue that will only worsen if not tackled sensitively and co- operatively.

In a bid to support the mental wellbeing of its own valued team, CJCH provides a 24/7 dedicated employee help line, which includes mental health and wellness support, at the firm.

Ahead of World Mental Health Day, Mr James has offered his top tips to businesses to encourage greater discussion and understanding around mental health in the workplace.

Recognising stress

Stress is often dismissed an inevitability in a busy working environment. However, when stress exceeds the norm, it can have a serious impact on a workforce, affecting its productivity, the wellbeing of staff members, and damage working relationships.

Being able to identify the signs before it spirals to unhealthy levels could help to ease the pressures on individuals.

Signs can include a drop in performance, increased sickness absence, a change to someone’s personality and attitude, which could include becoming withdrawn, overly emotional, or argumentative, higher staff turnover, and increasing complaints.

Recognising this and dealing with it early is essential.

Encouraging positive language and openness in the workplace

According to figures 49% of workers would not be comfortable disclosing a mental health issue at work.

As a result it is essential that those coping with a mental health issue feel supported enough in their environment to come forward if they are struggling. Adopting positive language in discussions around mental health can also change attitudes, and takin a stance against discriminatory terms, such as lunatic or nutter, can aid this change.

Creating a confidential space where employees can visit to discuss any worries or concerns at work could also alleviate pressures. Also creating an open-door policy for a specifically trained employee, who is able to support colleagues with mental health, could help address any issues effectively.

Introducing quarterly talks with specialists from charities including Mind and Gofal could also help to encourage further discussion and understanding around mental health.

Develop an action plan

Employers should attempt to work with employees to develop an effective way to identify the triggers which affect their mental health problems at work.

Creating an action plan which highlights mental health signs, stress triggers, emergency contacts, and what support they require will ultimately assist the staff members with their issues on a more personal level.

Encourage people to seek advice and support

Employers should encourage any employee who requires assistance to speak with a professional counsellor or GP to help them work through their anxiety, stress, or depression. Leaving vital information and helpline details for organisations including Mind (0300 123 3393), the Samaritans (116 123), and the Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line (0300 5000 927) at communal points in the office can also provide support.