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May 22, 2017

Workforce wellbeing must include mental health awareness

Understanding mental health issues is high on the agenda. Thanks to the involvement of the younger members of the Royal family in the ‘Heads Together’ awareness campaign which has seen the #oktosay hashtag trending.

Their activity gave an extra boost to this month’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but now the annual campaign is over, employers have an important role to play in ensuring the message isn’t forgotten. By having strategies that focus on mental health as part of employee wellbeing, businesses can help drive individual support as well as improving the bottom line. They may also avoid potential complaints or even litigation from staff.

Estimates by ACAS suggest that around £30bn is lost each year through lost production, recruitment and absence arising through mental health issues and it’s estimated[1] that employers should be able to cut these costs by around a third, if they implement better management practices to support ‘mental-healthiness’ in the workplace.  A recent workplace study[2] found that those suffering from mental health issues were 37% more likely to get into conflict with colleagues, 80% found it difficult to concentrate and 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

Paul Reader, Head of Dispute Resolution, explained, “There’s often an unwillingness to raise the issue, as people find it hard to talk about mental health.  They may feel there is a stigma, or that it could have an impact on their longer-term prospects.  Employers can help by putting support structures in place, with an open attitude to communication, which can drive better understanding as well as helping to address their legal obligations.”

In some cases, mental health issues may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability, without a justifiable reason. Mental health issues may be considered a disability if they have ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’

Paul added: “Where someone suffers from severe depression, for example, that’s not enough on its own to meet the definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act; the situation would need to meet the requirement of having a substantial, long-term impact on the individual’s abilities.  But, whatever the extent of an individual’s mental health issues, all are equally in need of responsible support and protection from unfair or discriminatory treatment.  There is a responsibility on the employer to tackle mental, as well as physical health in the workplace and hard-wire it into all aspects of their recruitment and employment policies.”

If you require support on any employment law issues you can contact Paul Reader, Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution on 01892 526344

Useful links :  Acas : the NHS’s Mindful Employer initiative : Mental Health Foundation

[1] Centre for Mental Health

[2] Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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