Sam Alexander, board member with North Yorkshire LEP and CEO of Your Consortium, shares her experience with mental health.
The 2017 Stephenson Farmer report, exploring mental health at work, found that 300,000 people a year lose their jobs as a result of mental health conditions and 15 per cent of the current workforce struggle with symptoms of mental health conditions.
Read more: One in five Yorkshire workers lie to boss over mental health sick day
The impact of mental health struggles at work shows up in absenteeism and lost productivity. Alongside costs to the NHS for associated mental health provision, the cost to the economy nationally is estimated at around £99bn per annum.
Whilst recognising the importance of the economic costs, the human cost is insurmountable. Nationally, we have rising suicide rates, particularly in some of our region’s key sectors, such as farming. We have to face the reality of this crisis. Dialogue around mental health has come a long way, with powerful national campaigns, such as Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters.
We are getting more comfortable talking about mental health, yet our comfort zone has boundaries. Such as some workplaces contributing to mental health crisis. We so often hear that phrase, ‘leave your problems at home’ but what if it’s your work that is triggering mental health trauma?
Employers have a duty to consider the well-being of their workforce. And, at this very challenging time for businesses of every nature and size, business owners and leaders need to also be aware of their own mental health, and build their ability to identify if they’re coping well, or ‘white knuckling’ through each day.
Read more: One million sick notes given out in Yorkshire
Sharing her story
To illustrate this point, I have chosen to share my story, seven years after my own mental health crisis. In 2012, I was a young and enthusiastic manager in a new not-for-profit company called Your Consortium. Hours were long and the work had all the ups and downs of a new company. On the surface, I had the kind of life many aspire to – purposeful work, growing career and had just bought my first house. Below the surface, I was struggling. I had few meaningful relationships outside of work and used overworking as a way of avoiding feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
That year, a traumatic Ofsted inspection turned my world upside down. Suddenly work, which had been something of a refuge for me, didn’t feel safe anymore. I became increasingly unable to cope over the next 12 months, eventually being signed off sick.
I was diagnosed with a trauma reaction to the Ofsted inspection and began a long and winding road to recovery, beginning with therapy and leading to significant changes in my life.
Two years into my recovery and with a completely different life, filled with nourishing friendships and a much healthier work-home balance, I had the opportunity to take on my biggest challenge yet – becoming CEO of Your Consortium. One of the first things I did was to make the company a Mindful Employer, investing in prevention activities, an Employee Assistance
Programme and transforming the culture to one of openness around mental health. Since this time, the company has gone from strength to strength.
I asked the team what it means to work for a mindful employer and here’s some of the things they said: “I can manage my mood and stress way better and work to my maximum ability.”
“Work is a safe environment for me and is a place in which I thrive.”
“It’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of people, and the culture ensures inclusivity in our internal culture.”
Mental health in the workplace is everybody’s business. The numbers show that an inclusive and open culture around mental health, impacts the bottom line in a positive way.
To help bring this reality to life in our region’s businesses, the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership have developed a Mental Health Toolkit, specifically aimed to support SMEs. The toolkit is accessible and action oriented, giving guidelines on how to recognise signs of mental health issues in yourself and others.
As leaders, our role in demystifying mental health is crucial. In my experience, by fully committing to a culture of open support around mental health, we have a team of happy, loyal and highly productive employees.
By investing in our people first, the pounds have followed thereafter.