Blog: Mental health – let’s do the right thing for everyone

Date posted: February 1, 2021
Sir Norman Lamb

In this blog Sir Norman Lamb, a former minister, prominent campaigner on mental health issues and member of the Mental Health & Productivity Pilot (MHPP) Strategic Advisory Board discusses how improving the mental health of everyone in the workplace is vital for the UK economy.

These are not easy times.

Every previous pandemic and every previous recession has resulted, evidentially, in a psychological fall-out with heightened level of levels of mental ill health – and of course we have now had both operating in tandem for the best part of a year.

I keep reflecting on the differential impact of this crisis, depending on your circumstances. For me, I think back to those long sunny spring and summer days and the incredible peace and silence that there was with the lack of transport movement in the first lockdown.

However, I am acutely aware that there were many people suffering horrors during that period.

If you were on the 20th floor of a tower block, with your children off school and your livelihood in jeopardy it was, and remains, very hard to cope with.

Now, for many, these present times will be significantly harder.

The impact of COVID-19 on all of us, and particularly in the workplace, is one reason why the work of MHPP is more relevant and more vital than ever.

Many employees will be thinking: ‘I might be clinically depressed, I have gone to my GP, I have been put on anti-depressants, and nothing much is improving. Do I want to tell my manager about this or do I keep quiet?’

Even though as a society I feel we have made significant progress over the last decade or so in reducing the stigma around mental health, there are a great deal of employees who will have concerns about telling their employer about what they’re going through.

That employee not only has to cope with their ill health but many will feel they also have to put on an act to pretend that they are fine, which just adds to the strain and can lead to a deterioration of their condition. It also has a clear impact on their productivity.

Simply put, we need to get to a point where companies can reassure employees that it is fine to be open about mental health problems and that the world will not cave in if they talk about it.

Allowing employees to open up takes a great weight off their mind, enabling them finally to bring their whole selves to work.

During this crisis, we also need to bear in mind a significant number of business owners – particularly of SMEs – will be under immense strain and anxiety and worried whether the business they have fought for all their working lives will survive.

This combination of factors is inevitably going to lead to a very significant fall-out in the longer term on the psychological impact of COVID-19 on people in the workplace.

There are many risk factors that make it more likely that someone will fall into clinical depression or anxiety.

This includes loneliness and isolation – and we know this is prevalent at the moment – the fear or reality of unemployment, worries around debt, and the loss of a loved one. Sadly, all those issues have been amplified by COVID-19.

The good news is that through MHPP, there is help at hand for both employers and employees.

Having been involved in the Midlands for more than five years, I have seen first-hand the region truly leading the way on the subject of mental ill-health.

MHPP’s service to employers would be important at any time, but is even more critical now because there is an unprecedented need to improve mental health in the workplace, and I would urge employers to find out more and see what they can do for their staff.

Business owners might think at first glance this is another thing to worry about, but this is actually a route to improved performance.

Firms that have taken steps to improve their staff’s mental health have seen reduced absences, a higher output of work, and staff being open and honest with their managers and colleagues alike.

Employers making positive changes to the mental health of their staff is totally in their interest – the clear reality is everyone will benefit.

If employers can do the right thing for their people, but also see productivity improve – and evidence proves that a happy, healthy workforce is a productive workforce – then that is a sweet spot we should all strive for.

This blog was originally published on the Mental Health and Productivity Pilot website. The Mental Health & Productivity Pilot is funded by Midlands Engine.

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