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13 January 2017

Teresa May promises transformation in mental health attitudes, but employers can help too

The Prime Minister has announced a raft of measures in a bid to “transform” attitudes to mental health at a speech delivered to the Charity Commission. May has made a number of pledges in a bid to improve mental health support at schools and in the workplace.

In terms of the workplace, she emphasised that mental wellbeing improves motivation, reduces absence and drives better productivity. She has pledged to appoint mental health campaigner Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, to carry out a review on improving support in the workplace and create a partnership with leading employers and industry.

In response to the Prime Minister’s speech, Simplyhealth’s Managing Director, Corporate & Consumer, Mark Hamson said:

“We are particularly pleased that the Government is focussing on mental health support in the workplace and employee well-being. Our own research and work with the CIPD has confirmed the important role employers play in ensuring the physical and mental well-being of their employees and, crucially, how timely, effective interventions can have a positive impact on employee attendance and engagement.

Given that we are working longer, it is crucial that employers are equipped with the tools they need to not only recognise when employees need assistance, but to be able to provide effective, continuing mental health support. This is a long-term problem that needs a long-term solution, and one which promotes open discussion and makes employees feel able to speak candidly about their mental health. We hope that the Prime Minister’s announcement marks the Government’s sustained commitment to destigmatising mental health and starting an open and inclusive conversation about the importance of effective mental health support in the workplace.”

Workplace absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence agreed but said that workplaces needed to adopt better absence management practices in order to encourage openness:

“In our experience, people would rather be seen as physically rather than mentally ill, so they aren’t honest about mental health absences – they don’t want to be stigmatised. Line managers need training to identify the signs early on. Workplaces need consistent, robust absence management systems, with tools to monitor and measure absence properly, supported by effective HR practices, such as gentle, non-judgemental return to work interviews. This helps to identify individuals with mental health challenges at a very early stage and enables early support. Professionals agree that early support is key to obtaining a successful outcome for both employer and employee.”

Adrian adds:

“With one in four suffering from a mental health issue, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to a diagnosis, only support and raised awareness – hopefully the new reforms will create a ‘culture of caring’ rather than judgement at work.”

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