Mental health at work: a new era?

In this blog, our colleague Jackson talks about opening up the conversation around mental health at work and how we are beginning to destigmatise the topic.

In any given week, 8 in 100 people will be diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression. These issues are becoming so prevalent that where in the 1960s, the average onset age for depression was 45, today it is 25.  And in the workplace, stress, depression or anxiety were responsible for 44% of all cases of work-related ill health and 54% of all working days lost due to health issues in GB in 2018/19.

Considering this data alone, it would be natural to draw the conclusion that we are in the midst of a growing, deepening, mental health epidemic. This may well be the case, but it’s also important to consider the fact that perhaps we have, historically, fallen victim to the stiff upper lip, to gender expectations, to suffering in silence and bottling it all up.

However, in recent years, we’ve come a long way, and what are now very normal conversations would once have seemed glaringly alien. Slowly but surely, we are starting to talk more openly about mental health illnesses, and by opening up a conversation, we are beginning to destigmatise the topic.

It’s an ongoing evolution, and there’s still a lot of work to do, but we are starting to make considerable progress.

So, whether there is a worsening mental health crisis, or whether we’re simply more comfortable with expressions like: ‘I’m actually not doing OK at the moment,’ ‘I’m struggling’ and ‘I need help’, the fact is, these issues, which impact 1 in 4 people, are not going away. The box has been opened. It cannot now be shut. (And that is obviously a good thing.)

This is translating across to the workplace too. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, which is a considerable amount of time to do anything. It’s crucial that the time we spend at work is as comfortable, safe and mentally accommodating as possible.

Here at Refresh, we’re lucky enough to work with tech for good developer, Culture Shift. A lot of what I’m talking about is at the heart of much of the organisation's vital work. Here are some statistics from a recent survey it commissioned:

  • Almost half of UK workers have experienced toxic workplace culture
  • 42% of people have previously left a job due to negative workplace culture 

With such considerable and seismic findings, how can we trust that the modern workplace values employee wellbeing and mental health when so many experience toxic behaviour at those very same workplaces? Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is an answer to that question. At least not yet.

Here at Refresh, I’m fortunate enough to work at a business that does value their employees' wellbeing. I’ve had very positive and open conversations with Lucy, our Associate Director, on exactly this topic. I’ve also been very touched, and uplifted by, conversations I’ve had with individual colleagues about mental health and wellbeing. I work with some really talented and caring people. If you’ll excuse my corny and trite use of language, it’s very Refresh-ing to work here.

I suppose I’d conclude by suggesting that at all levels, and in all roles, hire diversely. Hire the best talent. Hire people who care, genuinely, and humanly, about other people. Check in with your colleagues, but really check in with them. Ask them questions about their life, and invest yourself in their answers. Show a genuine interest. Take them outside of the workplace, go for a coffee or a pint - assuming out of work hours on the latter suggestion.*

As four wise men from Liverpool once said: ‘All you need is love.’

*My boss will read this blog, so covering all bases.

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