Mental health challenges have been on the rise in recent years and research is beginning to reveal the extent to which the pandemic exacerbated the problem. The prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by more than 10% in many European countries compared to pre-covid, with some countries reporting increases of 20% or more. Several European countries reported that the population of people suffering from anxiety doubled since 2019. As people around the world grapple with these issues, workplaces have a unique responsibility and opportunity to take proactive steps to listen to people’s needs and make a difference.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability worldwide. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and the need to address it. With this, there have also been significant improvements in how mental illness is understood and discussed openly.
While there is still some stigma surrounding mental health in certain communities, there has been progress in reducing the shame and secrecy associated with mental illness. This has had a positive impact resulting in more people seeking help, improved treatment access and a greater overall focus on providing support and resources to those who need them.
How workplaces can help
Employers are increasingly aware that supporting mental health is not only the right thing to do but also makes good business sense. Research shows that good mental health is linked to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and greater job satisfaction.
Prevention and early intervention — addressing issues before they become severe or devolve into crisis — are critical measures in improving mental health outcomes. Workplaces play a role in this by providing open and easy access to resources to employees, which both helps people feel supported and helps to reduce the costs associated with mental health challenges.
Another best practice for supporting mental health is creating a supportive workplace culture. This includes promoting open communication, educating people about mental illness to help combat stigma, and providing a wide range of support and resources to employees and their dependents. It also involves creating an environment where employees feel safe and supported to discuss their mental health challenges, especially if they feel these challenges are interfering with their ability to fulfil their duties.
At FTI Consulting, we provide Mental Health First Aiders across the firm who support people when needed.
Listening is another essential component to supporting mental health in the workplace. Organisations should strive to create environments where employees feel safe and supported to discuss their challenges, and build trust by taking time and action to address what employees are saying and sharing. This may include implementing policies and programs that support mental health, such as the Mental Health First Aid training and flexible work frameworks.
In Ireland, it is estimated that mental health issues cost business €1.5 billion annually in absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. In the U.K., mental health problems cost employers roughly £35-42 billion annually. A survey of U.K. employees conducted by the mental health charity Mind found that 48% of respondents had experienced poor mental health in their current job, and only half of those had talked to their employer about it. In France, an estimated one in five people will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their lives, and approximately 17% of Germany’s population will experience a mental health challenge in any given year.
These statistics are only a glimpse at the significant impact that the global mental health crisis stands to create for businesses and employers in Ireland, the U.K. and across Europe. They underscore the importance of taking a proactive approach to promote mental health and provide support to employees who may be struggling.
When it comes to the connection between mental health and culture, it is important to recognise that cultural factors can impact how mental health challenges are perceived and treated. Different cultures may have different attitudes towards mental health and these attitudes can also impact the willingness of individuals to seek help and the types of treatments that are available.
Overall, while there is a connection between mental health and culture, it is important that we recognise that mental health challenges are a universal human experience that can impact anyone regardless of cultural background. It is therefore essential that workplaces provide support and resources to help be part of the solution.
The future of mental health in the workplace is likely to continue evolving into an increased emphasis on prevention and early intervention. This will help drive greater awareness and understanding, as well as align with public health initiatives designed to promote mental health in the workplace. Overall, the future of mental health in the workplace looks promising as more attention is being given to this critical issue.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.