Why mental health needs to be discussed in the boardroom
Author: Rianna Fulham, Business Grapevine
The stigma around mental health is slowly shrinking as discussions about depression, anxiety and other silent illnesses become more commonplace.
In recent years, celebrities and business leaders have come forward to share personal stories of their struggle with mental health problems. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, have also advocated mental health awareness through the Heads Together campaign. And slowly but surely, the taboo around this complex and sensitive subject is also shifting in the workplace, according to Liam Butler, Vice President of Corporate Sales at SumTotal, EMEA.
He explains: “For example, take Olark, a US-based tech company: one of its employees, Madalyn Parker, recently made a bold move to explain her absence from work by highlighting her own focus on mental health. Rather than the typical OOO email, Parker simply wrote, “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
“The company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, didn’t only praise Parker for setting such a noteworthy example, he thanked her for reminding him of the importance of using sick days for mental health and by her actions helping to remove the stigma associated with mental health. “Considering that in the UK alone mental health issues were the reason for 15.8 million sick days last year, it was a pivotal moment that this story gained so much traction,” Butler continues.
“No one is immune to mental health problems,” he continues. “Mental health issues can permeate all levels of an organisation.” But it’s great to see that companies are demonstrating their commitment to helping and support staff who are suffering. Butler explains: “The restaurant chain, Pizza Hut, has included the introduction of an internal social network called ‘No Shame’ that encourages discussion of mental health, along with a 24-hour helpline. This offers staff advice on anything from anxiety and addictions to relationships, dieting and fitness.
“Despite increased focus and efforts, we are still a long way from regarding or treating mental and physiological health as the same. The impact of Madalyn Parker’s email shows that in the workplace, this divide is perhaps even more apparent. The 2016 comprehensive assessment of workplace mental health in the UK found that, although 60% of board members and senior managers believe their organisation supports people with mental health issues, only 11% have previously discussed a mental health problem with their line manager. 86% said they would think twice before offering to help a colleague whose mental health they were concerned about.”
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