Employees are three times more likely to discuss their physical health over mental illness at work, a survey has found, highlighting the need for more supportive environments where staff feel confident enough to raise concerns.
Only 14% of 2,000 workers polled said they felt comfortable discussing their mental health worries at work, compared with 42% of workers who felt able to talk about physical conditions.
Mental health conversations
Training provider Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), which commissioned the poll alongside Bauer Media Group as part of their joint “Where’s your head at?” mental health awareness campaign, said the findings suggested the need for a change in the way mental health is discussed, so that it is given the same significance at work as physical health.
Only around a tenth of staff would feel comfortable having a conversation about serious mental health conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or self-harm, versus nearly 40% who felt able to talk about cancer.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this week, MHFA and Bauer Media Group urged employers to sign up to a workplace manifesto, which asks organisations to treat mental and physical health equally; implement the six core standards for a mentally healthy workplace as set out in the government’s Thriving at Work review; and develop diverse and inclusive workplaces where staff feel comfortable to “bring their whole selves” to work.
MHFA England chief executive Simon Blake OBE said: “Despite the increased awareness around mental health in the workplace, employees are telling us that there is still a significant gap in how we think and act about physical and mental health at work.
“To address this gap, employers are being encouraged to translate awareness into action and stamp out the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace. The manifesto we are launching today gives employers the opportunity to show their commitment to protecting and supporting their people’s mental health.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Foundation – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex – has backed the UK’s first free text messaging service that connects people who want mental health advice with trained volunteers. The service, called Shout, aims to help people experiencing a range of problems, from suicidal thoughts to relationship issues, feel calmer.
Earlier this year MHFA England published a guide to help organisations introduce mental health first aiders in their workplaces. The company claimed that while more than 70% of workers know basic physical first aid, only 36% feel confident talking to colleagues about common mental health worries.