Time to Talk Day

This month’s “Time to Talk” day is a golden opportunity for managers to work to break down taboos around mental health by simply opening up and starting the conversation.

Employee health and wellbeing – taking out time to talk is a vital first step in breaking down mental health stigma.

Thursday February 1 is “Time to Talk” day, the day organised by the charity Time to Change. The purpose is to get people – employers, managers, workers, colleagues, friends – simply to sit down, open up and talk about mental health and wellbeing.

If latest research is anything to go by, this is something that very much needs to happen. And not just once a year – if we’re ever going to break down the barriers, stigma and taboos that still surround mental health.

Just last autumn, a survey of 2,000 people by the charity found the vast majority of Britons would prefer to talk about almost anything else. Relationship issues, money problems, even sex – than broach the topic of mental health.

Taboo subject

Similarly, the government’s Farmer/Stevenson review into mental health concluded that mental health was still a taboo subject in many workplaces. Opportunities are being missed to prevent poor mental health and help struggling employees get the support they need.

As report co-author Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, put it: “In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.”

Figures from NHS Digital have also argued that mental health and behavioural conditions accounted for 31% of all Fit Notes (where the diagnosis was known) written in England between December 2014 and March 2017.

So, what’s the answer? Using calendar landmarks such as the Time to Talk day are a great place to start. Time to Change has a range of communications resources and online advice that employers can make good use of.

Training and EAP support

But opening up and talking about mental health has to be more than a once-a-year event. Creating a culture where people feel able to come forward and talk about mental health problems. Where they will not feel that it will cost them their reputation, hopes of advancement or even their job – is something that needs concerted effort.

Investing in good training for managers can help. For example, resilience training, general management skills, listening skills and skills around holding “difficult” conversations.

An EAP can also be a useful resource. This sends a very clear signal to your employees and managers that mental health is something you take seriously. EAPs can, of course, also offer direct confidential counselling support and best practice advice, support and information to employers to help them get started, feel less intimidated and make the right call.

Deeper cultural change

More widely, this type of change comes back to fostering and cultivating a more “mental health-friendly” working environment. For example where there is more flexibility, autonomy (within reason), work-life balance and flatter management structures.

No one is suggesting this is easy or may happen quickly but, as Andrew Kinder, Professional Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health makes clear, the business case for effecting change in this way, even if it feels like it is going to need a large cultural and environmental shift, is compelling.

“The cost and burden of mental ill-health, it is becoming increasingly clear, is one that employers can ill afford. In fact, the Farmer/Stevenson review has estimated that as many as 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, with poor mental health costing employers up to £42bn a year,” says Andrew.

“The solutions that can help to make a workplace more mental health-friendly are often the same ones that will also make employees feel more valued, engaged and productive. Managing mental ill-health can be challenging – there are no easy solutions – but being proactive and not ‘giving up’ on good mental health can pay dividends on many fronts,” Andrew adds.