The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on mental health, but with life slowly getting back to normal what is society doing to help the estimated 13% of the global population that suffers from a diagnosed mental health problem and the countless others who don’t have a diagnosis? I think, for example, that it is fundamental to raise awareness of workers’ rights when it comes to mental health.
This story is an incredibly personal one and one which many will relate to. I initially noticed the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace particularly in hospitality. Many workplaces now include mental health as part of their health and safety training, and these tend to focus on things like taking a break during your shift and talking to a manager if you are struggling.
My initial reaction to this was ‘they say that but would they really listen? Probably not'. This encapsulates the perceived stigma around mental health which still exists despite the work that has been done to try to move away from the unhealthy and pervasive attitudes in society.
It’s important then to understand the legal and informal rights of employees when it comes to mental health, particularly as we as a society begin to talk about it more.
The most formal legal protection for people suffering with their mental health in the UK is the 2010 Equality Act. Mind UK states that the main mental health problems, which can be protected as a disability under the act, are: depression, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder. It also states that other conditions may be protected as long as they can be proven as an impediment to your ability to work.
The Equality Act was established with the goal to prevent discrimination against a number of protected characteristics, and it guarantees that workplaces cannot refuse employment or refuse to accommodate you based purely on your mental health problem. However, this legislation is not completely secure and there are ways for businesses to continue discrimination.
Furthermore, in 2017, the government commissioned Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of Mind) to independently review the role employers can play to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace. This led to the creation of the ‘Thriving at Work’ report. The report is not law but does make recommendations for future laws and it is also publicly available for employers to use.
The report sets out “core standards” which should be implemented in workplaces to help employers improve the mental health of employees, that - in the end - will benefit them as it will make employees more productive. The core standards in the report are: produce, implement and communicate a plan for mental health at work, develop mental health awareness among employees, encourage open conversations about mental health and about the support available when employees are struggling, provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development, promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors, routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
All of these standards aim to reduce the chance of mental health problems developing as a result of employees becoming drained. They also intend to make workplaces safe spaces for those who already suffer with their mental health.
In the future, as society normalises discussions around mental health, we need workplaces to follow and to accommodate those who suffer with their mental wellbeing, because we are talking about approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK. Furthermore, for businesses, accommodating those with mental health problems and protecting their employees against stress and other issues will improve productivity, making the business much more successful.
Supporting those with mental health problems in the workplace is in everyone’s interests and therefore must become much more widespread, nationally and internationally.
Written by Katherine Seymour