This blog was written by Rose Cross, CLT envirolaw intern
I for one know that the mental state of those around me, be it members of my family, friends or colleagues affects the way I act and work. Recently, I have found myself questioning the role mental health plays in business: there is no denying that, happy employees are necessary if a business is going to be successful and sustainable in the long run. Moreover, the mental health of an employee should be seen as much a health and safety issue as a wet floor, a 15 hour shift, or a toxic spill!
However, due to the stigmatisation and discrimination surrounding mental health, many individuals across the globe are often denied economic and social rights, have their human rights violated and are restricted rights to education and work. What strikes me is that although mental illness in countries such as Nepal can act as grounds for divorce, it continues to be a major issue in high-income countries, as well. Right here in the UK between 35-50% of individuals requiring attention for their mental state are not treated. It baffles me that even in the twenty first century mental health is often not properly recognised, let alone prioritised and dealt with effectively on a national or global scale.
That is until now. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is planning to build upon the mental health gap action programme, the Humanitarian Intervention Guide (mhGAP-HIG). The ‘Mental Health- Action Plan’, implemented in 2013, aimed to improve the way mental health is approached and treated with the overall goal to promote mental well-being, prevent mental illness, promote the respect for human rights related to mental health and fostering the recovery of sufferers. In the foreword to the action plan, Director General of WHO Margaret Chan writes ‘ Many unfortunate trends must be reversed- neglect of mental health services and care, and abuses of human rights and discrimination against people with mental disorders and psychosocial disabilities’.
What about the role of business in all of this?
Of the four main objectives the WHO aim to target in their action plan, the third is of relevance to the workplace: ‘to implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health’. This objective interlinks with both the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, yet it promotes compliance with the conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities as well as other international and regional human rights instruments.
So what should employers be doing?
Well, DDA states that reasonable adjustments must be set in place that aids disabled employees. Although you may not think of yourself as disabled, if your mental health condition is impacting day-to-day work and life then legally that person may be considered disabled. As difficult as it is for some people to come to terms with, it must be enforced that this should have no stigma attached and seeing as over one million working days a year are lost to mental illness it is sad to know this stigma remains and is not being properly addressed.
However, there is much more to it than legal compliance.
What are the ‘mental ramps’ businesses can help build?
To develop the full potential of any business, it is necessary and important to develop the potential of the employees who work there. In accordance with this, WHO and mhGAP-HIG aim to expand training and research as well as provide support to help staff of professional bodies understand the needs and capacities of individuals with mental illness. These recommendations aim to be in place by 2020.
Employers should aim to ensure their employees know the company actively recognise mental health as a ‘normal’ issue that should be addressed like any other and that can be worked through like any other. Employers should advocate proper engagement of their employees in detecting issues surrounding mental health, monitoring it without judgement. If employers ensure the working environment they provide for employees is non-judgemental, then there is more openness and the risk that mental health poses to business can be dramatically reduced.
Preventing work-related-stress should be addressed by ensuring adequate working conditions, where there is no overcrowding, excessive levels of noise or heat. Employees need to be assured they are valued, have control of their work, and that it’s variable, has achievable deadlines and sufficient pay. It may sound obvious, but these are common factors associated with mental ill health and work related stress. Pastoral care in a company is extremely valuable, and employers should recognise if an employee is suffering in their workplace by poor performance, poor time keeping, and withdrawal from social contact or even smaller things such as drinking caffeine more frequently.
Actively fostering a mentally healthy workplace and workforce is key to ensuring the sustainability of a business.