This is a response to the report on stress, published by The Mental Health Foundation in 2018
This well-referenced report (81 are listed) based on a sample-size of 4,619, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), and undertaken by YouGov, provides yet more evidence that the workplace is a cause of stress and that more needs to be done by employers. Whilst the report explores several life situations that can be linked with stress, their comments regarding the workplace is of relevance here and will come as no surprise. With reference to evidence from the HSE, NHS Digital, Stevenson and Farmer and MHF research they conclude that “tackling stress at work should be a major priority, as should be creating a supportive workplace culture that promotes mental health and enables people to seek help safely, without risking adverse consequences”. Their reference to a 2017 Unison study highlights the challenges of balancing home and work where 92% of staff said they had been under too much pressure at work and 67% “considered excessive work demands as the source of their stress at work”. Long hours, staff cuts, taking on more work, difficulties with managers and working an average of “7.7 hours a week of unpaid overtime” can all lead to excessive demands that employees feel helpless to control. Work-related stress in 2016/17 accounted for an average of 23.9 work days lost for every person affected.
Stress-related figures for NHS sector workers are particularly alarming where 15 million working days were lost because of stress, anxiety or depression (49). Public sector workers, including those working in local government, showed an increase of two thirds in the reporting of mental health problems between 2015 and 2016.
The report offers a valuable description of how stress affects people, explaining that repeated activation of our stress-response, or periods of high stress and no recovery time can lead to “physiological effects (of) cumulative wear and tear on the body … and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. This prevents us from pushing through and causes pressure that “can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope”.
The report provides a top ten “individual actions” list to manage, reduce and prevent stress but it also makes it very clear that the wider community and society must play a part in-order to “mitigate and reduce long-term stress”. Their third (out of seven) “top-line” recommendation of where stress can be addressed states that “Government and the Health and Safety Executive must ensure that employers treat physical and psychological hazards in the workplace equally and help employers recognise and address psychological hazards in the workplace under existing legislation”. Further they recommend that “Governments across the UK should introduce a minimum of two ‘mental health days’ for every public- sector worker” and hope that this would be adopted in the private and third sector. The report concludes for “stronger action by government and relevant agencies including HSE to help employers recognise and address psychological hazards”.
Also launched during this 2018 MH Awareness week is a new six-week campaign called Where’s Your Head At? The aim is to change health and safety law, so it protects mental health in the same way as physical health. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England have teamed up with Bauer Media and Natasha Devon MBE, mental health campaigner and Youth MHFA instructor, to launch a petition asking the government to change the law. The petition is backed by Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP and former Minister for Health and Social Care, Norman Lamb MP.
Whilst reports such as this are welcome, there is already an abundance of evidence that tells us stress is real, damaging and has a cost to the individual, their families, to business and society. The workplace may be an environment that causes stress but is also an ideal place, with a captive audience who spend more time at work than at home, in which to educate people, to smash the myths linked to mental ill-health and to create a culture (and a society) where the first response to someone in mental distress is “how can we help you?”.
There is an abundance of resources available to engage your clients with a positive culture around mental fitness. Check out Time to Change and their Employer pledge or suggest they sign up to the Mindful Employer Charter. Mindshift Consultancy provides a range of workshops ranging from 90 minutes to 2 days, tailored to fit the business need and all levels of staff.