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Getting it out in the open: mental health in the workplace

Enabling disclosure - telling an employer about a mental health concern - is the next big barrier that needs to be addressed to improve the way mental health issues are handled in the workplace, according to a new Employment Relations Comment recently published by Acas.

Opening up

The comment piece pdf icon Disclosure: The next big barrier for mental health [103kb] cites research from the mental health charity Time for Change that showed how difficult people found it to talk about mental health issues with their GP and family, let alone work colleagues.

It found that although half of respondents said that they were 'very likely' to consult a GP about a mental health problem, more than one in five had waited more than a year to do so.

More than a quarter of respondents with mental health problems said they had waited for more than year to tell their family about their problem.

Another study revealed that only about half of people going to their GP with mental health complaints will get a diagnosis.

The report asked the question: 'So, if employees are often not telling close family members about their mental health concerns, and not telling doctors or not being diagnosed, what chance do they have of telling managers about their problems and, more importantly, getting an understanding ear?'

Bridging the gap

The report recognised the difficulties employees and managers have in talking about many sensitive areas of working life, such as poor performance, behavioural issues, and disciplinary and grievance matters - not to mention mental health issues. Skills training can make a big difference, but there's more that can be done, it said.

It also brought attention to the new Government 25-point mental health strategy, which, among other things, seeks to support employers to help more people with mental health problems to remain in or move into work.

The comment piece hoped that measures to improve access to psychological therapies may one day be put forward for workplaces: 'would it be too unrealistic an ambition to hope that every employee should feel comfortable approaching their line manager about a mental health problem and be assured that they will at least be listened to and not turned away?'

Bridging the gap between employees and workplaces via family, GPs, occupational health professionals, and line managers would be welcomed, it said.

Line mangers shouldn't have to double as therapists or counsellors, it said, but 'understanding and receptivity' can give employees in distress a sign that their problems can be accommodated in the workplace.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published the pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [386kb], which aims to help employers create a supportive environment and take practical steps to address to the common causes of mental ill-health in the workplace.

Acas experts can visit your workplace and help produce an action plan to identify organisational stress risk, and review the effectiveness of your existing stress management arrangements; for details go to Stress: how Acas can help.

Acas also runs mental health awareness training for employers, listed under Health, work and wellbeing.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

This news content or feature has been generated by a third party. Commentary, opinion and content do not necessarily represent the opinion of Acas.

We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.

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