Dreaming about my client’s cases, constantly playing out ‘what if’ scenarios in my head, mouth ulcers (yuck!) and snapping at my husband – thankfully, I am not describing me on a daily basis, but this is me when I am feeling stressed. Whether it be as a result of work, moving house/job/city all at once (earlier this year!) or planning my week long wedding, I know I always show the same signs. It’s only now, after some years of trying to ignore the signs when they came, do I know that the best solution is to do something about what’s causing the stress. The feeling of stress can hit us all at any time and I know from past experience that sometimes it’s hard to deal with alone.
This week (14-20 May 2018) is Mental Health Awareness Week. The focus this year is on stress. Suffering with stress is sometimes a sign of deteriorating mental health, and can develop into depression, anxiety and even self harm and suicide. The purpose of this week is to get more people talking about mental health issues, and to try to banish those long-standing stigmas associated with them, which in turn may help those who are struggling in silence.
I spent most of my evenings last week tearing up at Corrie, which over the course of the week portrayed outstandingly, important mental health issues. Last week’s storylines demonstrated just what this week is about - to show how anyone, can anywhere and at anytime, be suffering with a mental health problem. It also demonstrated that those closest to the sufferers may be oblivious because on the outside the person concerned may not be showing any signs of struggling. Awareness and understanding in this area is therefore key.
In my role as an employment solicitor, meeting clients who are dealing with stress and mental health issues, whether they are suffering themselves or have employees who are, happens to be the case all too often. One of the main things I have noticed over the last few years when I have dealt with these issues, is that sometimes the stigma of being seen to be stressed at work and not coping has stopped employees from raising issues with their employers: so much so that the stress can develop into long-term anxiety disorders and/or depression.
Work related stress is one of the biggest causes of stress in people’s lives. It can come from issues with workload, poor relationships with colleagues and/or management, and worry over making deadlines or targets. A recent report from Thriving at Work suggested that £33-42 billion pounds per year is the approximate cost to UK employers as a result of poor mental health within employees. The HSE reported that over 11 million days are lost per year due to stress at work. These startling figures make it clear that more needs to be done by employers to ensure they are fully equipped to deal with mental health issues at work.
As the taboo of talking about mental health is slowly diminishing as a result changing attitudes represented in soaps such as Corrie, and as a consequence of celebrities and public figures coming forward to talk about their own experiences with mental health, employers should be taking note. Employers should be working towards creating working environments where their employees also feel they can bring up issues with them. Managers should be pro-active, for example, by attending training courses in advance which can help them to recognise the signs of stress and the best ways in which to respond. Employees should not fear repercussions of speaking up and should expect that when they do, they are heard – which means employers doing something about the problems causing the stress, if they are work related. The risk of failing to spend time and resources in this area is clearly demonstrated in the above figures. There is also potential for a mental health issue to become long term, and this could lead to potential disability discrimination issues if an employee is just ignored.
Investors in People have this year produced their first ever Managing Mental Health at Work report. When reading it I was shocked to see that 85% of people surveyed in the North East have experienced stress at work (joint highest along with NI) compared to 74% in London. Having just moved from London a few months ago, I would definitely have put my money on it being the other way round! I guess that is where I can perhaps come into the equation for you. If you are an employee who is struggling with a mental health issue at work or an employer who has this week thought twice as to whether they are fully trained or knowledgeable in this area, then feel free to contact me to see if there is any way I can help.
Advice and assistance early on will hopefully prevent situations from spiralling out of control.
Let’s all work hard to keep talking about mental health and hopefully in time, the ‘awareness’ part of the week won’t be so necessary!
If you would like to talk and get some advice in this area, please contact Sharney Randhawa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0191 384 0171.