Around 1 in 6 of us will experience a mental health issue in the workplace, and with an estimated 450 million people globally experiencing a mental health challenge each year, it has never been higher on the agenda, across all areas of society.
Awareness of mental health as an issue is cresting a wave – in terms of campaigns, this year alone has seen Mental Health Awareness week, Time to Talk Day, Children’s Mental Health Week, University Mental Health Day, and Stress Awareness Week, with more to come.
Businesses everywhere are beginning to respond to the reputational and moral, not to mention economic, imperative of improving the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
And the government is following suit – the key outtake from the Stevenson Farmer Review, which Bupa contributed to and was published in 2017, is that we move to a society where we all become more aware of, and cope better with, our own and other people’s mental health when it fluctuates.
This is a positive step forward. It’s crucial that there’s awareness of mental health as such a wide-ranging issue – something that can affect friends, colleagues and families. Campaigns that raise awareness of these conditions are beneficial to those who experience them, reducing stigma and increasing empathy.
But is conversation and awareness-raising enough? According to the City Mental Health Alliance, 44% of employers are seeing an increase in reported mental health challenges. In addition, 50% of long-term absence in non-manual workers is accounted for by stress, demonstrating the cost to business. At Bupa, we have seen calls to one of our mental health services increase by 53% in the past two years, showing that mental health is still having a significant impact on all areas of society.
In my view, awareness-raising of mental health conditions is a great start in the process of tackling them, but it shouldn’t be the end. Awareness is helpful in terms of prompting people to seek help, but effectively means very little if there is limited help available. Research from Mind, the UK mental health charity, has found that services are understaffed, with four in ten mental health trusts (41 per cent) operating with staffing levels well below established benchmarks. It also found that services are not available all the time, with one in ten (10 per cent) crisis teams struggling to operate 24-hour, seven-day-a-week services, despite recommendations by NICE. We know that excellent mental health care exists, but it isn’t widely available to everyone, where and when they need it.
This is where businesses have a key role to play. Bupa has a unique perspective on mental health – as a provider of mental health services to thousands of business and employees, including many of the FTSE 100, we’re also responsible for the health and care of our employees, and offer mental health services to thousands of customers.
These customers are challenging us to do more and better in the mental health space – driven by demand, health insurance is evolving to cover more mental health conditions without limits or exclusions, and direct care pathways that facilitate faster access to treatment. Bupa in the UK has recently launched enhanced mental health cover to both its business and individual customers which covers addictions, and learning and behavioural disorders related to mental health.
In partnership with our clients, we are also seeing a number of progressive businesses that are providing onsite mental health services to their employees. Complemented by robust mental health policies and communications programmes, the roll-out of accessible digital tools and products offers a means of enabling change and creating low-cost, scalable mental health interventions in the workplace.
This is where the future of mental health lies. Whilst many businesses have made great strides around the core Stevenson Farmer recommendation of improving ‘awareness’ of mental health, too many are approaching the issue either solely from a preventative or a piecemeal angle. Whilst it’s admirable that EAPs (employee assistance programmes) and mental wellbeing tools and apps are now common in the workplace, as standalone initiatives these raise question marks around efficacy and engagement in the medium and longer-term. To be effective, these must be considered as part of a broader, more holistic mental health programme. Preventative tools should be supported with intervention initiatives at the point of crisis, where needed.
Like other businesses, Bupa has by no means cracked the mental health challenge, but we are looking closely at how we can drive mental health even further up the agenda. We work closely with organisations like the City Mental Health Alliance, a business-led collaboration whose focus is on supporting City workers, to ensure that we’re at the forefront of thought leadership and the latest developments in mental health research.
Mental health is a core area of focus in terms of looking after our own people, as well as our customers. We have a clearly set-out approach to mental health in addition to offering specific support services and support to our people. Looking holistically at our culture, last year we launched our ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ pledge, which empowers our people to bring their true selves at work. This is essential for not only building an inclusive workplace but also for helping our people to thrive whilst working for us.
In summary, whilst businesses have moved the dial in terms of being able to talk about mental health, there’s more that we can do to keep pushing this critical issue forwards. We need a little less conversation – and a little more action.
About the Author
Patrick Watt leads the development of Bupa’s international health and travel insurance businesses. He is also the Global Head of Bupa’s Workplace Health & Wellbeing practice. Before joining Bupa Global in January 2018, Patrick spent five years as Corporate Director for Bupa UK. Prior to Bupa, Patrick was Executive Director at Goldman Sachs International and Head of Health and Wellness for EMEA and India. This included developing Goldman Sachs’ health and wellbeing strategy and managing its various health and fitness operations. He also worked at Mercer in a number of senior leadership and consulting roles. Patrick has extensive experience of advising leading organisations on wellbeing and led the development of Bupa’s award-winning digital health platform Bupa Boost. He was a founding member of the City Mental Health Alliance, has chaired Business in the Community’s sub-committee on mental health, and has served as Board Director of Mindapples, a not- for-profit organisation which encourages people to look after their mental wellbeing. He is a passionate believer that attitudes to mental health have to change, and that businesses have a critical role to play in encouraging an open and supportive work environment where people can talk freely about their mental health without fear of discrimination or consequence.