Mental health problems can manifest themselves in many different ways and often go undetected or unreported. However, it is worrying to hear that in circumstances where employees do open up about anxiety, stress or depression, two thirds of employers are unwilling to accept them as valid reasons for absence.
This shocking statistic is the headline figure in new research from AXA PPP Healthcare, which highlights the need for greater understanding of mental illness in the workplace, and how to support employees suffering from it. While one in four of those surveyed – including managers – admitted that they had suffered from mental health issues in the past, one in five employers said that they would primarily worry about their employees’ capability to carry out the job, with one in six revealing they would worry about having to bear the burden of additional work.
It seems that the need for a greater understanding of mental health issues applies to employees as much as it does to employers. When calling in sick due to ill mental health, just 39% of employees said they would tell the truth, with 15% fearing that they would not be believed if they attributed stress, anxiety or depression to their absence. Moreover, a startling quarter of employees would not own up to true nature of their illness through fear of being judged, with the research also revealing that 46% of employees felt unsupported in the workplace due to a lack of understanding mental illness by their employers.
Interestingly, just 12% of employers admitted that their industry was affected by mental ill health and is doing enough to address it. Yet over half of employers surveyed felt that attitudes surrounding mental health had positively improved in the past 15 years.
“We need to work harder to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental ill health,” said Dr Mark Winwood, director of clinical psychology at AXA PPP healthcare. “Businesses are well placed to lead the way to changing this harmful prejudice by giving their employees the necessary tools and support to enable them to discuss mental health in an open and unbiased way.”
While we fully endorse the words of Winwood, we are under no illusions that ridding UK plc of the stigma surrounding mental health will be a long and arduous – but hopefully rewarding – journey.