To mark World Mental Health Day on 10th October, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing is urging employers to embed mental health support into their business strategy as the impact of COVID-19 takes its toll on employees’ mental wellbeing.

A recent forecast by the Centre for Mental Health[i] suggests that in England up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis.

A new survey from WorkLife[ii] highlights that a quarter of UK SMEs want to introduce mental wellbeing support within the next six months, with 30% currently offering it, through avenues such as guidance on how to manage stress.

Cheryl Brennan, Executive Director, Health & Benefits at Howden says, “The pandemic has impacted all of our lives, including completely changing how we work. During lockdown home working became the norm, and since the government’s recent U turn on returning to the office, home working looks set to continue.

“Whilst home working suits some, for others the isolation from colleagues and being away from the office environment is impacting their mental wellbeing. We have already seen some poor mental health habits creeping in such as employees not taking breaks, working longer hours and not disconnecting from work.

“Also, there are furloughed workers that may have been stuck at home since March not working, who will have been anxious about the security of their job. Some now face redundancy as the scheme comes to an end. Other employees may already have seen a reduction in their household income due to a partner or financial dependent being made redundant. Given these issues, now is the time for employers to increase mental health support.”

An ACAS-commissioned YouGov survey[iii] found that nearly two out of five employees who had been working from home felt stressed, anxious or had experienced mental health difficulties due to their working situation.

Another report from Deloitte[iv] in partnership with mental health charity, Mind highlights the cost to business of poor mental health is £45bn, up 16% from two years ago. They say one in six workers will experience a mental health problem at any one time, with stress now thought to be responsible for almost half of working days lost in Britain due to ill health.

Cheryl says, “Mental health was rising up the agenda before the crisis, but it’s now imperative employers take it seriously. Many more employees will experience poor mental health as they come through the crisis and businesses need to be prepared.

“Talking about mental health and developing a culture where mental health isn’t stigmatised is essential. Equally important is having a clearly defined mental health strategy to help employees proactively look after their mental health but also to know where they can get support and advice when they need it. This can help to reduce costly long-term absenteeism and encourage employee wellbeing.

There is no magic bullet or quick fix solution. Every business is as individual as every employee. At Howden, we believe our mental health model that considers the environment, culture and individuals is an essential step in ensuring any products or interventions are long term, meaningful, individually relevant and will cover the wide reaching scale of all mental health conditions and their needs. Only then will we truly deliver the best employer and employee outcomes.

“Some of these solutions include widening private healthcare policies to more staff and implementing mental health pathways, offering virtual GPs, reviewing the relevance and visibility of long standing employee assistance programmes and ensuring they are fit for purpose for the longer term, training mental health first aiders, as well as introducing our independent support and mentoring service for mental health first aiders provided by RedArc’s mental health nurses, as they are fast becoming an exposed and under-supported resource

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc adds, “There is no doubt that Mental Health First Aiders can be an important part of an employers’ wellbeing strategy, but this doesn’t come without its challenges and risks. Particularly at this moment in time, MHFAs need to know their boundaries, when to ask for help and know that they are supported individually and collectively by their employer, with access to professional support.”

For more information, please visit: www.howdengroup.co.uk

[i] https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/publications/covid-19-and-nations-mental-health-october-2020

[ii] https://www.covermagazine.co.uk/news/4021179/staff-mental-wellbeing-support-priority-smes?utm_medium=email&utm_content=&utm_campaign=CV.SP01.Daily_RL.EU.A.U&utm_source=CV.DCM.Editors_Updates&utm_term=KAYAK%20PR

[iii] https://www.orange-business.com/en/blogs/working-home-and-workers-mental-health

[iv] https://www.icaew.com/insights/features/2020/feb-2020/counting-the-cost-of-mental-health-in-business

By Editor