Mental health stigma in workplace must be eradicated

Vanessa Sallows

Last month's Mental Health Awareness Week has given advisers the perfect opportunity to reflect and recognise their role in raising awareness about the importance of discussing mental health in the workplace.

Employers and employees clearly have a role to play here as well, but advisers are in a unique position to help businesses create an open environment that makes conversations like these easier.  

It is a sad reality that most people will experience a mental health issue at some point during their life.

What is even more worrying is that research from Legal & General has shown that only 4 per cent of employees who have experienced depression and 5 per cent who have experienced anxiety feel able to talk to their manager or superior about it. 

However, in this same survey, a staggering 78 per cent of employers believed their employees would be comfortable discussing such problems in the work environment.

This huge discrepancy needs to be tackled head on by raising awareness of just how common these mental health problems can be and the sheer number of people that will unfortunately be suffering in silence.

Figures such as these are a clear indicator that there is still a lot more that needs to be done to encourage open and honest discussions within the workplace. After all, communication is the key to tackling the stigma that is too often associated with mental health problems.

Advisers must work with their business clients, from large corporates to SMEs, to assess what employee support networks are in place for those employees who do suffer from mental health problems.

An Employee Assistance Programme as part of a wider health and wellbeing strategy would serve most, if not all, businesses well and its availability needs to be communicated to all employees, so that they know there is someone to speak with if they need help.

Just over a quarter of employers we surveyed did not have one in place, despite mental health issues being the top cause of claims on our Group Income Protection policies since 1999 and accounting for 33 per cent of new claims last year.

To coincide with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Legal & General partnered with sporting personalities to launch our “Not a Red Card Offence” campaign. The aim of this campaign was to raise awareness, educate individuals and encourage action around reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

Nigel Owens, the rugby union referee, team GB gold medal-winning hockey players Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, and former Premier League footballer Clarke Carlisle, joined the campaign to help change perceptions and increase understanding of mental health issues.

Awareness campaigns provide a good opportunity for advisers to speak with their clients and highlight that talking about mental health issues is not a sign of weakness. Advisers can work towards improving the misunderstandings that often surround mental health to ensure their clients are aware of just how frequently these problems occur.