Employers need to take practical steps to tackle mental health issues

There needs to be a shift towards taking practical steps to help employees with mental health issues, rather than simply increasing awareness among employers, according to mental health campaigners.

Activists Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, who met on Waterloo Bridge in 2008 when Benjamin was struggling with schizoaffective disorder, have joined with employee engagement business Employees Matter to launch This Can Happen – a campaign that aims to encourage employers to take practical steps to help those struggling with mental health issues.

They said the pressures of modern working practices have contributed to an increase in employees experiencing stress and anxiety over the last few years.

Benjamin said: “We’re in a different day and age now. People feel they have to answer emails all the time, at any time of day… it’s a ticking timebomb in the workplace.

“Younger people are struggling, as well as people with children… it all makes for a recipe for a lot of stress.

“We need businesses to come up with joined up solutions.”

According to research by childcare provider Bright Horizons, which is supporting the campaign, a third of parents said they felt “burnt out” all or most of the time, with more than half of these claiming that their work was the reason for this.

This Can Happen plans to hold a conference for HR professionals in London on 20 November that will encourage businesses to make their employees’ mental health a priority.

Benjamin said that some HR professionals often do not have the specialist knowledge needed to deal with mental health issues. The conference aimed to provide them with practical steps to help their staff.

“We’re trying to ask the questions that haven’t really been asked before, such as how to deal with suicide in the workplace and how to people who’re caring for others and feel stressed because of that,” said Zoe Sinclair, founder of Employees Matter.

John Handley, HR director at Bright Horizons, said: “Mental health, particularly in the workplace, can be an area clouded by uncertainty and the conference will help involve everyone in the conversation. As many employers know, if people feel engaged and are supported it has a positive impact on business.”

Benjamin was considering ending his own life in 2008 when Laybourn – a stranger – intervened and talked to him until the emergency services arrived. They have been campaigning around mental health and suicide awareness together since they were reunited in 2014.

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