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Mental health still a no-go zone

05 June 2019

FOUR IN five British workers won’t discuss mental health problems with their boss because they fear being stigmatised and judged incapable, survey findings have revealed.

Meanwhile line managers are reluctant to bring up the subject with their staff because they are concerned they will say or do the wrong thing.

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), says the findings demonstrate that mental health “is still a taboo” in many British workplaces and is urging businesses to develop “prevention-first” approaches to dealing with it.

The survey, published by IOSH, asked 400 employees from a variety of businesses across Britain to get a clearer picture of what is being done to support workers with mental health problems.

Key findings include: 80% won’t discuss mental health with their line manager; 25% of employees would be more comfortable discussing mental health with a colleague; and 22% of line managers rarely discuss mental health with their direct reports, with a further 11% never doing so.

One employee said: “I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression but never admitted to it at work for fear of being stigmatised.”

The results also reveal that 62% of line managers don’t get enough help from their organisation to support the mental wellbeing of their staff, with only 31% of respondents saying they have been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of poor mental health.

Head of advice and practice at IOSH Duncan Spencer said, “These survey results are deeply worrying. They demonstrate that while much work has been done to remove the stigma of mental health, is still a taboo in many workplaces.

“Businesses need to work hard to break down these taboos, by creating more open lines of communication. Line managers are vital in creating workplaces that are positive for people’s mental health and wellbeing, but they need to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge to do this.

“We encourage businesses to create a prevention-first approach to managing mental health and wellbeing.”

In conjunction with Management Today, IOSH produced a white paper informed by the survey findings, to provide guidance on the role of line managers in promoting positive mental health.

It argues it is vital line managers understand how to manage fluctuations in workers’ mental health, what the causes of ill-health can be, how to recognise when employees may be unwell, and how to advise on where to access further support if they are to be effective in promoting positive mental health in the workplace.

Employers are already required by law to provide training on physical health and safety, and IOSH believes it is time the same requirements applied to mental health.

  • IOSH’s Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course provides practical advice and tools for managers to help create a healthy and productive place of work 
  • IOSH has published a range of resources, guidance and research into mental health and wellbeing