Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries.
Raising awareness about depression is the focus of this years WHO World Health Day 2017. It aims to bring us one step closer towards equal prioritisation of physical and mental health across the world.
Depression causes mental and physical suffering and can limit a person’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends.
And untreated depression can prevent people from working, participating in family and community life and in the worst case scenario, can lead to suicide.
Many people will spend around a third of their lives in work, and more than two thirds of adults are in employment.
Therefore, the workplace presents a good opportunity to reach people who may have either diagnosed or un-diagnosed mental health problems, including depression, to offer them support.
Employee health and wellbeing is now widely acknowledged as a key driver of business success and so employers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of looking after both the mental and physical health of their staff.
Lots of good work is already being done. Over 450 companies have signed the Time to Change employer pledge to take action to reduce stigma.
And businesses like Unilever and EY have started training staff to be Mental Health First Aiders.
Last year, PHE and Business in the Community launched a Mental Health Toolkit for Employers aimed at businesses of all sizes, offering decision makers and line managers a roadmap for addressing mental health at work. The toolkit has been downloaded over 10,000 times.
But while all this is good progress, many people who go to work every day still suffer with mental health problems in silence and often push through until their ability to cope deteriorates.
For some people, suicide can seem like the only answer. Tragically over 5000 people in England die from suicide every year and it is the leading cause of death for men under 50.
A conversation with a line manager or colleague can make the world of difference to someone who is struggling.
That’s why we want to equip employers with the skills and advice they need to integrate mental health into their employee health and wellbeing policies.
Based on the success of the PHE Mental Health Toolkit, we recently launched two toolkits for employers on suicide prevention and postvention (responding to suicide should it happen), in partnership with Business in the Community and Samaritans.
The toolkits include important steps and suggestions that employers, line managers and leaders in the workplace can use to build their own plans around promoting good mental health and supporting their staff.
Here are some key points to remember when looking after employees’ mental health:
- Adopt an organisation-wide approach to promoting the mental wellbeing of your staff, working in partnership with them.
- Make sure that line managers are aware of the HSE Management Standards and receive education and training on mental health and suicide awareness so that they have the confidence to respond and know what to do if an employee asks for help
- Create a work environment where employees and their families feel valued and which promotes respect, open communication, a sense of belonging, emotional wellbeing and encouraging people to seek help when they need it and to support each other
- If possible, provide opportunities for flexible working for staff according to their needs.
- Simple actions can make a huge difference - talking with a manager or colleague can help people get the support they need
There are many things that employers can do to help promote good mental health and look after their staff.
But possibly the most important thing to remember is that early action can stop anyone reaching the point where they feel they have no option but to take their own life.
This is why we’re asking all employers, large or small, public or private sector to treat mental health as seriously as physical health and ultimately save lives.