300,000 people lose their jobs a year due to mental illness: How to open up conversations at work

26th Oct 17 | Lifestyle

A new report called Thriving at Work has released the figures.

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A new report has revealed startling figures about mental health and the workplace.

According to the Thriving at Work report, up to 300,000 people suffering from long-term mental health problems have to leave their job every year. It suggests that poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year, with a cost of between £33 billion and £42 billion to employers annually.

Taking these figures into consideration, it’s apparent that mental health is not being adequately addressed in the workplace. With this in mind, we spoke to chief medical officer at BT, Dr Paul Litchfield to understand more about why it’s important to discuss mental health, and what you can do to open up such conversations at work.

Why are conversations about mental health important in the workplace?

“Talking openly about issues as common as mental health problems is – or should be – normal. By talking about it, it makes it easier for people to raise any issues they may be experiencing.

“It also makes it easier for people around them, including their manager, to better understand how to help them cope and move forwards.”

Why do you think there’s still such a stigma attached?

“People find it harder to understand things they cannot see. There is a degree of mystery, which certainly carries a lot of cultural baggage, about what goes on in the mind, which no longer applies to the body.

“People with mental illness often don’t fully understand what is going on themselves and may experience feelings of guilt or even shame about their condition.”

How can you best bring up such issues with your manager?

“Having an open relationship is key. Mental health is a spectrum that runs from thriving to severe illness, and is of course subject to change.

“Most of us ask colleagues, ‘How are you today?’ and we strongly recommend people give an honest answer like, ‘Actually, I’m not feeling great just now’, rather than just the reflex, ‘Fine, thanks’.”

Why is it important to ask for days off when you need them?

“The individual affected is often best placed to decide what works for them, and it will of course be dependent on their role. It all depends on the situation and the individual to make adjustments where necessary that are beneficial for everyone.”

How would you recommend those conversations should be had?

“We always recommend giving people the time and space they need to talk about what is troubling them and to explore how they can be helped. Most people, especially with recurrent mental health problems, know what works for them and what they can and can’t cope with.

“It’s of course not possible to accommodate everything, but by emphasising the confidentiality of the conversation and showing empathy and compassion will lead to productive, supportive discussions which work for all.”

© Press Association 2017