It may seem odd to focus this blog on the subject of mental health after a summer that has generally been unusually warm and balmy. Summer is also a time when we have a chance to take some time off and relax. But mental health problems can be triggered by all sorts of issues – sometimes it’s chemical, other times it could be caused by deeper emotional issues. A sunny day is not necessarily going to make a great deal of difference to a sufferer. In fact one very well-known TV personality has often talked of the depression he suffers as the light changes and the days become shorter again following mid-summer on 21st June.
What made me want to focus on this issue right now is the increasing and welcome recognition that greater support is needed for people with mental health conditions. The Queen’s Speech in June promised the introduction of a new Mental Health Act to ensure those suffering from mental illness are treated fairly and protected from discrimination. This is a significant step forward for people suffering from mental health issues and will no doubt encourage businesses to take a harder look at the support mechanisms they have in place for workers affected by mental health problems.
But legislation shouldn’t be the only key driver for change. Giving workers access to support services for health issues, whether physical or mental, including those that enable early interventions, are a key part of a business’s corporate social responsibility. As a recent ECA survey has shown, by engaging with their CSR, many electro-technical firms see improvements in staff retention and recruitment. They also improve their opportunities to secure new business as evidence of CSR is becoming a key factor in procurement. Fundamentally everyone benefits.
This is really relevant to the engineering services sector and the wider construction industry which is being challenged by skills shortages. It makes sense that if you look after your people, they will feel more loyalty to you and if you provide access to services that help them identify underlying issues and get better, quicker, you cut workplace absence and boost productivity.
We know the building sector has not had a good record to date in respect of workers experiencing mental health problems. According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2011 and 2015, workers employed in skilled construction and building trades were found to have had the most suicides, followed by elementary administration and service occupations. The ONS data reflects research by the specialist charity for the construction industry Mates in Mind which found that one in six workers is currently experiencing depression, anxiety or stress. It is good to see that the charity is already making good progress since its launch in January having completed the pilot of the innovative ‘Start the Conversation' awareness sessions for construction workers to help break down the stigma associated with mental health, and get people talking.
Charitable initiatives such as this can provide a real life line for workers, but should ideally complement employer provided services.
The positive news is that change is happening. I know from my contact with firms in the sector and through our research at ECIS, there has been a real shift in both attitude and level of care offered to workers. Employers are not only taking a more active role in promoting mental health and well-being, they are putting early intervention services in place so that if employees need professional support it’s there. One example of this is the direct access service for mental health problems from ECIS which allows members to access treatment without needing to see a GP, along with an Employee Assistance Programme which provides confidential telephone support.
Mental health problems can be incredibly debilitating and in some cases – devastating. Many employers understandably find managing these issues very challenging. By their nature they can be complex to treat and take time to resolve. But by providing access to a confidential telephone referral service for face to face counselling, employees can get the help they need with the level of confidentiality they may wish to have, while employers are meeting their duty of care responsibilities.
The Bupa Direct Access Service is available to members, without the need to see a GP, by calling 0345 606 0802. Bupa will be able to do a telephone assessment and provide any required referral.
The Bupa Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential support for a range of factors such as bereavement, stress and divorce, it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to members by calling 0800 269 616.