Businesses must increase focus on mental health issues

Large employers need to prioritise mental health as a boardroom issue, putting it on a par with physical health, according to a report by mental health charity Mind.

The Taking care of business study, published in September, was the result of a “summit” held in May, attended by a range of leading employers and co-hosted by health provider AXA ICAS.

Key recommendations include ensuring staff mental wellbeing is being monitored and reported back to the board. Employers, too, need to be creating an open, supportive workplace and introducing employee assistance programmes (EAPs), with smaller businesses being encouraged to explore pooling resources locally to share the costs.

The report also urged the Government to retain the tax-exempt status of EAPs as welfare counselling and explore other financial incentives to encourage employers to prioritise mental health at work.

Ministers, it argued, also needed to explore how to improve the way GPs used fit notes, including examining how to increase compulsory occupational health training for GPs and medical students.

The report stressed the importance of good line management in spotting signs of mental distress and acting early, yet conceded that managers were seldom provided with the “soft skills” needed to handle mental health issues sensitively.

In a separate move, the Government has partnered Comic Relief to help tackle mental health stigma, pledging up to £16 million over the next three-and-a-half years for Time to Change, the stigma and anti-discrimination campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

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