Five Mental Health Predictions For 2019
From ongoing loneliness and suicide issues to the adverse impact of constant change and work-life pressures on new parents, there are lots of challenges keeping mental health high on employers’ agendas.
Here are our predictions for the top five trends employers will need to tackle in 2019.
1. Help people to cope with uncertainty
With organisations under pressure to deliver change as never before, workers are feeling the strain. According to the 2018 Mental Health at Work Report, nearly two thirds of people (61%) have experienced a mental health issue in the last year due to work, while more than one in ten (12%) are worried they could lose their job in the next 12 months.
While HR professionals can’t eliminate the current climate of economic uncertainty or ongoing need for organisational change, they can influence whether or not people crumple under the weight of challenges lying ahead. That’s because ‘grit’ – our ability to deal with setbacks and devise strategies for overcoming obstacles – is directly linked to our willingness to embrace failure.
Critical to this is giving people permission to fail and learn from their mistakes. Somewhat ironically, it’s only those people who aren’t afraid to fail that are prepared to push themselves out of their comfort zone, try new things, ask for help and find ways around obstacles.
What’s more, people who see failure as an opportunity to start over (demonstrating what’s known as a ‘growth mindset’) are not only more likely to succeed; they’re also much less likely to suffer from the stress and anxiety that results when we unrealistically put too much pressure on ourselves to get things right first time.
2. Accept the NHS can’t cope
Unfortunately, while physical health issues typically correct with medical care, time and rest, mental health issues become more entrenched and harder to treat the longer someone is left unsupported. That’s why by the time an employee gets to see their GP, then waits at least another six weeks (and often much longer) to access counselling or other mental health services via the NHS, any acute mental health issues have typically spiraled into something much more serious.
As a result, GPs are proactively encouraging patients to use their company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if they offer one. But instead of resolving the problem, by the time someone with a medium-to-severe mental health issue picks up the phone and asks for help, the telephone and face-to-face counselling offered by EAPs to nip problems in the bud isn’t enough.
In response, instead of expecting EAPs to do more than they were designed for, or waiting even longer for an overburdened NHS to treat the employee, employers are increasingly expected to offer additional psychological rehabilitation services, to ‘fix’ employees themselves, but at less than the cost of allowing related performance issues or absence to otherwise go unchecked.
A key part of this trend is using ‘triage’ to identity upfront which employees actually need additional treatment to recover, along with the associated prognosis and likely cost, so that the business can make decisions on a case-by-case basis. So far, this approach has saved Nationwide £150,000 in mental health-related costs and enabled GWR to generate a 100% return-to-work rate for all of the employees affected by mental health issues, which it chose to proactively rehabilitate.
3. Reduce the risk of suicide
As the government’s decision to appoint a minister for suicide in October highlights, the number of people taking their own life has reached unacceptable levels. By the end of today, 12 people across England will have ended their life. That’s one person every two hours, or almost 4,500 people a year.
Most of these individuals didn’t want to end their life. But neither did they want to go on living with the pain they were experiencing, be this due to a painful relationship breakup, financial problems or some other issue they were too ashamed to ask anyone to help them with.
Unfortunately, the focus on supporting them once they become suicidal is not the answer to the mental health crisis, because by the time someone wants to take their own life, several opportunities to support them have already been missed.
Instead, more and more employers (who are increasingly having to deal with the devastating effect of one of their employees ending their life) are now putting in place measures to support people in emotional distress from the earliest opportunity possible.
This requires training managers to spot the symptoms of emotional distress, such as reduced eye contact, increased forgetfulness, tearful or angry outbursts or changes in physical appearance. Then also training managers to listen with compassion, so that they can direct distressed individuals towards appropriate support before things get too much.
4. Create a sense of belonging to tackle loneliness
In addition to appointing a Minister for Loneliness, the government has also invested £20m to help tackle loneliness, after a survey showed that at least three quarters of GPs in England see between one and five people a day whose main reason for coming in is that they are lonely.
The majority of this funding will be spent on encouraging people to make connections within their local community. But with many people spending most of their day at work, employers also have a vital role to play when it comes to mitigating loneliness, the side-effects of which have been proven to be worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Initiatives as simple as encouraging everyone to eat together, instead of in isolation at their desks, and getting people to take part in group wellbeing challenges can dramatically increase the amount of positive social interaction that employees experience. Above and beyond that, giving people a sense of belong is also expected to become more of a focus this year, because belonging is the flipside of loneliness.
Forward thinking employers are looking at ways to increase the ‘social capital’ across their organisations. For example by creating ‘virtual shared offices’ by inviting remote workers to log into collective chat rooms so they can greet each other and ask questions as they would in a shared office. Or allowing managers from different parts of the business to work in teams on cross-company projects, so they can form peer groups that not only benefit emotional wellbeing but also facilitate knowledge transfer and agile working.
5. Support new parents
Every day we get calls from parents who are struggling to balance the demands of work and home life, with both men and women feeling guilty that they should be putting in longer hours when they leave on time, but experiencing just as much guilt that they should be with their families when they’ve been forced to extend their working day.
The demands placed on new parents can be particularly challenging, prompting the NHS to introduce mental health checks for new mothers and fathers experiencing depression or anxiety after the birth of a new child.
About one in ten men experience mental illness in the first six months after the birth of a baby, while one in five women are affected. At the same time, around 20,000 women go through a traumatic birth experience each year, which can have lasting implications for not only their physical wellbeing, but also their ability to work, if they aren’t supported properly.
A big mental health trend for this year is therefore for employers to do more to help employees recover from giving birth and alleviate the pressure on new parents where possible.
Critical to this will be allowing fathers to work much more flexibly, so that they can better balance the new demands being placed on them and the ‘mental load’ typically placed on mothers. All of which will not only help to reduce preventable mental health issues but also drive achievement of diversity and inclusion objectives.