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World Mental Health Day – The fight for good mental health at work

Publication date: October 10, 2017

Written by Professor Sarah Niblock, Chief Executive, UKCP

“I used to manage a big team in my old job, but now I feel like I am just a nobody.”

These are the words of Kevin*, 49, who was made redundant after nearly three decades in a high-powered role when his firm was taken over.

You could say Kevin is actually very lucky – he managed to land another job pretty quickly in his home town.

While it’s a part-time post, starting at a much lower rung on the ladder of an entirely different sector, Kevin’s work ethic overrode the initial financial hit.

But a far bigger hit was yet to come: last week his GP ordered urgent health tests over concerns about Kevin’s excess weight gain, caused in no small part by his out-of-control drinking.

“It’s been my way of anaesthetizing the shame. I spent my teens and early 20s studying hard for a career that was swiped away in a heartbeat,” he said.

World mental health day

Kevin’s plight is all-too-familiar given the findings of a recent UKCP survey. Anxiety and depression among workers have risen by nearly a third in just four years, with part-time staff affected the most.

You might think compressing work into a three-day week sounds appealing, but Kevin tells me he misses out on camaraderie, being a little set apart from his colleagues.

As our video with UKCP expert Sherylin Thompson shows, workplace relationships are a vital way to share issues but also spot concerns. She says we must not be afraid to initiate conversations about mental health with workmates, in the same way we might talk about that bout of ‘flu that’s going around the office.

At UKCP, we’re also urging managers to be able to spot the signs – a staff member keeping their head down and quietly getting on with the job doesn’t automatically bode well. In Kevin’s case, his bosses don’t acknowledge the transferable skills he brought from his former position, leaving him feeling adrift.

As a part-timer, his company won’t even invest in training for Kevin, believing he’ll take the skills they’ve paid for elsewhere. “It’s depressing to feel that I am treading water,” he said. “Job satisfaction is currently nil – but who else would have me?”

Whether or not Kevin’s mental health issues have their origins in the workplace or elsewhere, there’s no doubting the business case for companies taking care of their staff. This could be through mental health training for managers or HR, employee assistant programmes or sign posting where people can go externally for help.

The burden of cost for lost productivity and recruitment drives far outshadows the cost of providing a healthy workplace where staff can achieve their human potential.

*name changed to protect identity

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