Let’s start with the good news. There has been significant media and social coverage today of the Stevenson and Farmer review on mental health at work; “Thriving At Work”, co-authoured by the chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer. It has provided a fantastic profile for the issues that millions face at work every day and a series of positive ideas for employers to take forward to make their workplaces healthier, better places for us all.
The review drew on expertise from a range of organisations and individuals – I was pleased to see some organisations I know very well on the list. It has come up with some eye-watering statistics about the impact that mental health problems has on the economy and on employers – a good way of trying to move this issue from the HR department into the CEO and Financial Directors/CFOs office. It estimates that poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn each year and that employers are losing £42bn each year due to staff suffering from mental health problems. This is an important piece of work, done at the request of the prime minister on one of the most important issues facing this or any society around the world.
Now for the bad news. Despite the excellent work done in this review and the commitment shown by many employers up and down these islands, millions still feel unable to get the support they need at work and feel trapped in unhealthy working environments – and far too many are not getting the help they need quickly enough through the National Health Service. Employers must do more to move this agenda from words and initiatives into culture and day to day business. Less talk about work life balance and more living and breathing it.
That means CEOs, managers, partners, directors, non-exectives, team leaders, frankly anybody in a position of status and authority within an organisation needs to be a role model. Send some signals around your teams and organisations; be open about your own health; be willing to change how you work (the hours, the late night emailing, the interruptions to weekend and the like) to create a more peaceful and calm working environment; think about the impact that you and your demands have on those around you; remember that people’s lives don’t start and finish when they swipe their ID card to enter your offices or premises; remember to see the whole person working for you.
The NHS needs a major overhaul of its mental health services; yes, that means more money, but it also means more focus on mental health; more staff who are trained to look for the signs, who can ask the right questions; it means management systems that understand that mental health issues are not like breaking your leg, understanding that people miss appointments for good reasons as well as lazy ones and to cut them some slack, not cutting off their counselling at the first sign of a problem. I listened with a lump in my throat at the World At One today hearing Leah talking about her own battles with depression – which nearly cost her life – and her battles to get therapy and support from her local NHS trust. I saw some of my journey in hers; the relief when you find out what is wrong with you – I was very lucky to have an understanding and enlightened GP who helped me – and then the desperation to get help straight away. I didn’t want to wait – I didn’t feel I could wait once I knew I needed help and was able to pay to get things moving. Very few people are in that position. I was very lucky.
This report is a bright light today; I hope and pray that we all now do everything we can, in our own small ways, in our own workplaces, in our daily lives, to keep that light burning bright for the millions who need help and are not yet getting it.