The barriers to talking about mental health have slowly started to break down in the last decade. We’ve come a long way in the past ten years however we still have a long way to go before we get to a stigma free society. According to a government commissioned review 15% of people at work have symptoms of a mental illness. To gain deeper insight into mental health in the workplace I interviewed a man called Dean Worrall who is a mental health advocate. Dean has the most uplifting job title I’ve ever come across – “Chief Happiness Officer”, he is also the host of ‘The Mindbus” a podcast created to raise mental health awareness. He specialises in educating companies from managers to employees, around the importance of mental well-being. “There is a stigma in every walk of life and that we’ve all most likely been on the giving and receiving end of stigma. People don’t understand what the other person is going through. The person themselves have no idea why they feel most of the time.”

A third of our lives spent at work
The most common mental illnesses that Dean comes across in the workplace is Depression and Anxiety, being transparent about these mental issues can be challenging. Poor mental health costs the UK economy £94bn a year, while policies that address wellbeing at work increase productivity by as much as 12%. People can under-estimate how much work can dominate your life- the average person will spend a third of their life at work- that’s 90,000 hours. Having grown up with a family member who carries a mental illness, whilst describing it to peers I’ve experienced first-hand how uneducated people are around the subject due to lack of teaching. Dean having come from a corporate background and having suffered from a mental illness himself- understands how challenging juggling work and struggling with a mental illness can be. He’s resurrected from tough times and used the lessons he’s learnt to educate others.

One of the reasons Dean carries mental health talks, is because there are so many people that don’t know what a mental health illness is and how it can affect every aspect of your life.“1 in 5 people take time off for stress however 90% of these people will use a cover story because they don’t want to use stress as the reason.” When working for a Global tech company Dean would also use excuses “I would say I had a migraine, stomach bug or my children being ill so I could lie in bed all day.” He states there isn’t a generalised approach to mental health in the workplace “A mental health strategy is key to any organisation helping their employees with MH issues. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’, a strategy tackling mental health should be fit for the company.”

Vulnerable Millennial’s
If you have a mental illness one of the many reasons for not speaking up may be fear of getting ‘the sack’. This is apparent in all age groups however it’s especially relevant amongst millennial’s, research carried out by Debut in 2018 found 70% of students and graduates would avoid speaking to their employer about mental health due to experience of employers being unsympathetic. However according to the ‘report of willingness to talk’, millennials and Gen Z are the most open to therapy. Dean has personal experience of this “I worked for a global tech company and when I told my good friend that I was in therapy and asked if I needed to advise HR, he replied by saying that is the worst thing you can do, you will be put on PIP.”

Zero hour, zero security
Poor mental health among young people has been described as an “epidemic”. According to ‘Mind’ younger members of staff are the most vulnerable in the workplace. The charity found that young people are more likely to use their holidays instead of taking days off work when experiencing poor mental health. Staff turnover, sickness and lost productivity cost employers about 8% of the average salary for a young person aged 18 to 29 years old in 2018 – roughly equal to £1,723 per employee. Experts have said that easy-to-access credit and less secure ways of working can create problems for young people. Ollie Scott, at the age of 18 tragically committed suicide in 2011 due to being in £6000 worth of debt after turning to pay day loan companies to pay off bills, he was earning £175 a week. Jerome Rogers who worked as a courier on a zero-hour contract earning around £160 a week in 2016 also committed suicide due to debt from parking fines increasing to over £1,000.

I can say from personal experience of being on a zero- hour contract how unreliable they are as they made me turn to a popular student loan company to help pay my rent whilst at University- this was also the case for many of my peers. What does this tell us? Zero-hour contracts should be abolished and external help, rather than the manager being the person for employees to correspond with – may be a more appealing approach for millennial’s.

The next steps
Moving forward companies need to kick start the mental support for employees and even bosses “I have seen a few companies looking at MHFA’s (mental health first aiders) for their business and they think that this is all they need to do. It’s not. MHFA should be a starting point for organisations to move their employee’s mental wellbeing to the next level. I’ve worked with some amazing HR teams that are passionate about raising awareness around mental health but don’t receive the funding from people in power”.
Having a serious mental illness can reduce your life expectancy by 10-20 years – we don’t ignore cancer or heart disease, so why should we ignore our mental well-being?

Written by Sophia Ghahramani