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We’re talking about mental health, are you?

29 April 2014
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Last year, more than 15 million days of sickness absence across the UK were caused by everyday mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety or depression. And despite one in six employees (that’s your colleagues, friends and family) currently experiencing mental health issues, many businesses are not putting in place plans to ensure the mental wellbeing of their workforce. The cost of all this? Not just a huge amount of personal suffering but a loss of approximately £70 billion per year to the UK economy.

At Forster we not only have our own progressive work culture, but have also worked on a number of campaigns around mental health to try and address these stats. Several years ago, we created and ran the Government’s MindOut for Mental Health campaign, which led to a step change in how mental health was dealt with by the media and in the workplace. We created the brand for Time to Change, which has engaged thousands of individuals and organisations across the UK to tackle the stigma of mental health. And we have been working with Mind on a campaign to ensure professional service organisations can better deal with mentally ill people they come into contact with, with a website designed for professional services launching today.

This month, we built on all this expertise to create and launch a national campaign for Business in the Community (BITC) to address the ‘culture of silence’ over mental health in UK businesses, and ensure mental wellbeing is recognised as a priority boardroom issue. Unless proactive, preventative steps are embedded into how businesses manage and nurture their people, issues that could otherwise be resolved simply can soon develop into ill-health, absence and disengagement.

To shape the campaign, we produced a report, Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk, which sets out the evidence that the current culture of silence around mental health is stifling UK business productivity and competitiveness. It also outlines a route map for every business to harness the benefits of proactively engaging with mental wellbeing: improved employee motivation, greater staff retention and increased competitiveness.

The campaign is being spearheaded by a new group of progressive business leaders who will drive the campaign ambition, report back on progress and work to inspire their peers. The new BITC Workwell Mental Health Champions Group has 12 founding members, including BT, RBS, Mars, Bupa, FriendsLife, Santander, Deloitte and Procter & Gamble. We worked closely with these businesses, as well as Mind, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Work Foundation and Professor Cary Cooper to shape and steer the campaign.

We launched the new group, the report and the campaign itself at an event during Responsible Business Week. More than 150 individual organisations were represented, reflecting that even if many businesses are not openly talking about mental health yet, they are certainly looking for leadership to see how to open up the dialogue.

Mental health is a continuum – it’s not one state or the other – and it is in all our interests to try and ensure people can operate at the higher level of that continuum for as much as possible. As a first step, the campaign is calling on every UK business to demonstrate their commitment towards supporting the mental health of their employees by signing the Time to Change organisational pledge. More progressive businesses can then join the BITC Workwell Mental Health Champions Group.

We have produced a series of short videos of business who are taking positive approaches to mental health. We’d encourage you to watch them, share them, and join the movement.

For more information, visit: http://www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/workwell/mental-health-were-ready-talk