Today (May 8) marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, a national campaign designed to promote the importance of good mental wellbeing.
Organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), it follows Prince Harry opening up to the world last month about the psychological issues he suffered following his mother’s death.
The prince revealed he benefited from psychiatric help only when he was in his twenties, many years after he lost his mother when he was aged just 12.
Now with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate in newspaper parlance – he is encouraging people to talk about their mental health, rather than bottle up their feelings.
The royal trio are spearheading Heads Together, a campaign to end the stigma that can surround mental health. They rightly argue that barriers be torn down so that people feel able to discuss their issues without fearing they’ll face prejudice or judgement.
This chimes too with the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The 2017 campaign is focusing on “why too few of us are thriving with good mental health,” about who is thriving and who is simply surviving.
Wellbeing tax incentives
The MHF is also looking to promote good practice among public and private sector employers. It cites Thrive West Midlands, a three-year, multi-agency initiative which will provide individual support for severe and enduring mental health issues.
This project will also see the trialling of a “Wellbeing Premium,” a tax incentive for employers who are committed to staff wellbeing. Under the plan, organisations presenting evidence of how they’re improving their employees’ wellbeing will be eligible for a discount on their business rates.
As Norman Lamb, former health minister and chair of the West Midlands Commission on Mental Health points out, this would be a win-win. “For employees, better support at work, reduced distress from sickness absence, and reduced loss of earnings. For employers, improved productivity, reduced sickness absence and fewer people leaving work unnecessarily at enormous cost to the business.”
The initiative also has to be seen in the context of the financial cost to the regional economy. Research by the University of Birmingham found that poor mental health results in 4.1 million working days being lost every year in the West Midlands. The bill is estimated to be as £12 billion – equivalent to £3,000 per person living in the region.
An interesting point about the wellbeing premium is that it has been conceived only as a temporary incentive.
This is because its proponents argue that once employers see the benefit of promoting wellbeing in the workplace, a public subsidy incentive will no longer be required.
Company medical insurance and mental health
We’ve reported before, for example, on how stress is now the biggest cause of long term sickness absence. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development also noted increases in sickness absence due to stress and illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Clearly, then, it makes economic sense to address these issues, to help employees manage their mental health and wider wellbeing. Indeed, a wider, well-structured absence management strategy can significantly boost the bottom line.
Company medical insurance can help with this. Many policies include access to wellbeing programmes. These typically offer access to advice and 24-hour access to expert medical advice which promote health lifestyles and can provide or enable early intervention when a health concern arises.
Access to counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy may also be provided, especially if an organisation has opted to provide one of the more sophisticated occupational health insurance schemes available.
These are interventions that send the right signals to your employees – that you care about their wellbeing – whilst helping minimise sickness absence and maximise productivity and profitability.
That win-win situation can, then, see not only your employees thriving rather than surviving, but your business.