The United Kingdom’s Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. Taking place every May, the theme for the year 2020 was kindness. In today’s increasingly knowledgeable and tolerant society, the fact remains that there is still a whole lot of stigma surrounding mental health, and a lack of understanding when it comes to recognising and addressing the mental health problems that many people are struggling with. Kindness, at times, can seem in short supply.
How is mental health defined?
Mental health is conventionally defined by a person’s level of psychological well-being or the absence of mental illness – mental illness referring collectively to any diagnosable health condition characterised by an alteration in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with distress or impaired functioning. Put simply, our mental health is how we think, feel and act.
Covid-19 and mental illness
There is no denying we are now living in a rapidly changing and altered world. The advent of novel coronavirus and the swift transition to a “new normal” has left many struggling to adapt. Many have found their entire livelihoods destroyed or diminished in the space of weeks. Those that were once prosperous and well-off, now find themselves struggling economically, or in debt for the first time in their lives. Worldwide, people have lost jobs and future prospects. Some have lost homes. An unfortunate number have even lost loved ones. The effects of the virus and the lockdown, for many, is having an ongoing, and likely far-reaching impact on mental health.
Suicide rates in England have increased 200% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the London Ambulance Service announced that they were attending an average of 37 suicide attempts a day compared to 22 in 2019. Recently published data by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that twice as many adults in Britain are reporting symptoms of depression compared with this time last year. Before the pandemic, one in ten people appeared to have depressive symptoms; that number is now one in five. This equates to around 20% of the population – 13.4 million people. Whilst the findings are not automatically indicative of clinical depression, they do show a decline in well-being, and indicate that more people would likely meet the diagnostic criteria for depression were they to be assessed in a clinical setting.
The NHS offer a range of treatments for depression, and GPs will often recommend lifestyle changes as well. Treatments include anti-depressant medications, talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and specialist therapies through Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT). Apart from front front-line treatments, GPs also recommend positive lifestyle changes in the form of diet, exercise, social support, and routine – including gainful employment – as methods for improving a person’s mental health.
Unfortunately, the current coronavirus crisis has resulted in a 10-30 % reduction in the current capacity of NHS mental health services. With continued restrictions on social interactions, and an increasingly large section of the UK workforce unemployed, treatment options for mental health issues have faced severe disruption.
Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The World Health Organisation suggests that nearly 4 billion people are affected by some degree of mental health problem, and that by 2030 the estimated global cost of mental illness will exceed £6 trillion. The annual impact to the economy from mental health related conditions currently sits at around £100 billion. These numbers are only going to increase as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the globe.
Countless businesses are already experiencing the economic fallout from this pandemic, but coupled with a looming mental health pandemic, many businesses look certain to face continued hardships. For decades it has been common practice for organisations to provision their staff with adequate funding and appropriate equipment to support those with physical impairments, and facilities are always at hand should a colleague be taken ill or injured at work. Conversely, very few businesses view it as common practice to provide the same level of support to those suffering through mental illness. 1 in 6 people experience mental illness in the workplace; for those in full-time employment women are twice as likely as men to have a common mental health problem. Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sick days in the UK can be attributed to mental health related conditions. Better mental health support in the workplace can save UK business up to £8 billion a year.
Mental Health in the workplace
Even before Covid-19, depression as a result of mental illness was the leading cause of global disability. Employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to remove disadvantages suffered by employees with a disability, and this is not just limited to physical ailments. According to recent findings by the CIPD, 62% of employees say having a heavy workload (which can be attributed to poor management) is the top cause of stress related absence. Effective management and a realistic workplace wellbeing strategy is therefore essential for any competitive organisation who wishes to retain an efficient, profitable, and happy workforce. People are an organisation’s greatest asset – employee investment across all levels is critical. Line Managers play a frontline role in the welfare of staff, yet only 30% of Managers have taken part in any form of mental health training. And only 16% of all staff feel that they are able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager.
Mental Health First Aid
For a modern business mental health should be a boardroom issue, on par with physical health. Positive employee wellbeing has a well-documented impact on productivity, performance, and engagement. The Mental Health First Aid Program was first developed nearly 20 years ago in Australia and has since spread to many other countries, with over 3 million people worldwide being trained in mental health first aid as of 2019. In the UK, over 114,000 people are Mental Health First Aiders, with over 1,600 qualified as instructors.
Having someone trained to properly listen and understand, sitting side-by-side to a person asking what they are going through or how they feel, can make a significant difference in the management of a condition. A trusted, calm, and non-judgmental listener can be the first step in essential treatment and recovery, whether that be of a respected staff member, or a valued service user for your organization. In keeping with this year’s theme, sometimes all it takes to improve someone’s mental health is a simple act of kindness.
Able Training offer accredited courses in First Aid for Mental Health, as well as several other courses that deal with the management and understanding of mental health issues. You can find information on these courses here: Understanding Depression and Anxiety, Understanding Mental Health and Illness, Understanding Self Harm