If I told you right now that I have an incurable condition, one which causes me significant anguish daily but one for which I am medicated; a condition that has had such a profound impact on my life that it has almost claimed it twice - I am almost certain your first thoughts would not land on a mental health condition. You would think of cancer or another terrible physical affliction and your heart would immediately go out to me. Therein lies one of the many concerning stigmatisms and confusions around mental health.
"Mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health to obtain the best and healthiest workforce possible."
Now I am going to break one of the last social taboos and tell you that the above description is true of me. I have a severe depressive and anxiety disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) as a result of childhood trauma. This may be news to many of my colleagues, but it is a fact that I am learning to be open and honest about. It is also one that I have felt comfortable being honest about from the beginning of my employment with the ABI and have received support and assistance for when needed.
Not everyone is this lucky. Today I am using this platform, and the significance of World Mental Health Day, to call on more employers to recognise that mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health to obtain the best and healthiest workforce possible.
Group income protection schemes
One way of helping to manage workplace mental health is through group income protection schemes. Swiss Re figures show there are 17,168 group income protection (GIP) schemes covering 2.2 million employees. This means that 8% of employed people (those who work for companies) are covered. This figure is too low and more needs to be done to protect the remainder of the workforce.
Mental health problems cost UK employers £30 billion a year in lost productivity, recruitment and absence, according to Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). This is an extraordinary waste of time and money for what are largely treatable and manageable conditions.
Under GIP, insurers also provide a range of services to prevent absence from happening in the first place. Depending on the scheme, this preventative support can include health awareness days, employee assistance programmes, outsourced HR support, training for line managers, and help to analyse absence data to identify the causes of absence.
In addition, insurers provide early intervention services when someone begins a period of absence that help to speed up an individual’s recovery and facilitate their return to work. This can include offering treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other talking therapies, as well as offering practical support to employers in order to identify and remove an individual’s barriers to work.
The mental health charity, Mind, says 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health issue each year. Look at the figure again – 1 in 4 or 25% of every man, woman and child in the UK. Now look around you at colleagues, friends and family and do the maths. Frightening, isn't it? But do not despair. It can start with a simple question – “are you ok?” but the result could be immense and life-changing. We need to stop hiding behind platitudes and start recognising the truth that has always been there: to be fallible is to be human and that is perfectly fine.
This all started with me admitting my truth. Now it is your turn. Are you ok?
Lauren Gow, ABI