Mark Casci: Mental health affects us all in the workplace - let's fight this one together

Last year a step change came in the workplace.

Mental health overtook musculoskeletal injuries/back pain as the most common reason for absence from work behind the common cold.

While the modern workplace is undoubtedly a stressful environment, I suspect that this change is more a case of people’s willingness to talk openly about mental health problems.

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Were people being truthful and equipped with the courage and confidence that they could share such information with their boss, I suspect this move would have happened many years ago.

The reality I suspect is that people continue to blame physical ailments when in fact their inability to work is actually caused by mental factors.

As a young man, mental health was something hardly anyone spoke about, with artists the only group of people to speak about their pain.

Like a lot of people my age, my education on mental health matters came from the music world.

Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain and Morrissey were frank about their struggles but that was it. The stiff upper pip sensibility, so imbued in the British character, was very much still the order of the day. Expressions such as “pull yourself together” remained common place. The separation of what was happening and reality was vast.

Ian Curtis of Joy Division - gone are the days when artists were on the only people talking about mental health.

An estimated one in six of us experience a mental health problem in any given week. Mental health is the second largest contributor to long-term disability. The leading cause of death for men under the age of 50 is suicide,

These are statistics which touch us all. Everyone of us is touched by mental health, in itself an extremely broad-ranging term which encompasses everything from anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders and bipolar personalities.

They say the first step to solving a problem is recognising one exists in the first place.

And mercifully, more and more people across the country and planet are getting the confidence to open up about problems they may be facing.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Chief Executive officer at Virgin Money, is one of a few top business leaders to be open about her mental health. Photo credit should read: Scott Heppell/PA wire

No longer is discussing mental health in the public domain the preserve of musicians or artists. Sports stars have displayed commendable bravery in coming forth to discuss their problems. Ricky Hatton, Clarke Carlisle, Frank Bruno etc have all helped to dismantle the stigma around the condition.

However, the world of business remains one of the last frontiers on this most important of subjects.

I applaud the likes of Virgin Money boss Jayne-Anne Gadhia and Lloyds chief executive António Horta-Osório – both of whom have been open about the struggles.

However, we need more people like Jayne-Anne and António and we need more examples of the insight I gained from a roundtable event I chaired with Barclays last week on this very subject.

Former world champion Ricky Hatton has fought a long battle with depression.

I came away from this event feeling hopeful. Those in attendance all had great things to contribute on this and you can read about them on the next page.

At this stage I must salute the tremendous work Jodie Hill at law firm Thrive is doing to change the law to make sure there are mental health first aiders in each workplace.

The overwhelming message however was that every business large and small needs to have their own procedures in place to deal with this.

There is great training and advice available on this. It costs barely anything, certainly a pittance in comparison to the cost of long-term sickness or disability discrimination actions.

Bosses need not be councillors. Your staff don’t want you to solve their problems, they want your support.

Similarly, by embracing flexible working, encouraging a healthier workplace and making it a more welcoming environment you are helping prevent the conditions before they arise. It is not cosmetic, it works.

Jodie Hill MD of newly established employment and HR boutique practice Thrive Law. She is fighting to have mental health first aiders in the workplace. Picture Scott Merrylees

More than anything, on World Mental Health Day, we must remind ourselves that it genuinely is OK to not be OK.

You are not alone, believe me. There is always someone you can reach out to. And they may be closer than you think.