Mental health in the workplace and 5 ways employers can improve it
Mental illness in the workplace is costing UK employers around £30 billion each year. Stress, depression and anxiety are approximately responsible for 91 million lost working days each year.
I’m also aware that only 7% of people with schizophrenia, like me, are in employment – including voluntary positions!
Analysts have established that £8.4 billion each year is lost by businesses due to mental illness, plus another £15.1 billion in reduced productivity. A further £2.4 billion is lost replacing staff who leave work because of mental health.
I’m always surprised that employers don’t make it a priority to promote positive mental health at work.
As a full-time fashion writer at John Lewis’ head office in London, I received very little in the way of support for my mental health, despite that it was always and increasingly apparent that I did suffer from a severe mental illness. Emails I sent to occupational therapy were often ignored. It was different when I sprained my ankle and I received an hour of rehabilitation.
One big barrier to support is stigma, despite that it’s now well-known that one in four of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives.
Causation of mental health problems often takes place in childhood and are often beyond the control of employers. But there are many ways in which employers can help:
◻️ Flexible work patterns allow an employee to take time off when needed. For me, starting later and finishing later means there’s no problem if it’s hard to get out of bed.
◻️ Line managers can be supportive by listening to concerns and monitoring workloads to ensure variety and to safeguard against excess stress!
◻️ Specialist mental wellbeing helplines (such as LawCare) make listening and and impartial, trained ear accessible and confidential.
◻️ Business owners can create a quiet space for employees should they need to talk or take some space.
◻️ Google use the Headspace app for their employees with success. “Using Headspace regularly has reduced the turbulence in my life, so a typical day seems to go just that bit smoother. In the workplace, Headspace can be used both proactively to set people up for the day ahead and reactively at any point to meet the day’s challenges. It’s reassuring to know people have a tool they can go to whenever needed.” states one employee.
Interview with Erica Crompton
What was your primary goal when setting up Medfed?
Medfed was conceived in 2009, after a spell hospitalised with paranoid schizophrenia. So much had gone wrong in my life and I felt things were only going to get worse post-hospital. So, I decided to do something positive and began painting with bright colours and glitter. I made tongue in cheek outfits and objects to turn insults and bad vibes to my advantage and into wearable art for myself and to decorate my home. From here, I decided to call this collection ‘Medfed’ and keep going with it. It’s inspired by a cool Japanese-based fashion label called Milkfed, the difference is I’m on medication…
Do you think there is a move in a positive direction in the perception of Mental Health in media?
Overall yes, but I think there is some way to go with psychosis and schizophrenia as these are labels that get bad press, still. It’d be nice to see more successful faces with the label and I’m sure they’re out there. We need more Elyn Saks and perhaps also more people with schizophrenia who do more than just mental health campaigning.
How do you prepare for speaking engagements?
I usually start with online research into the organisation or company I am speaking too. It’s also nice to have a talk with the booker about my audience. My story is a colourful one and I also studied at Chelsea College of Art so more often than not, I use fine and contemporary art to illustrate key feelings, emotions and situations.
Who or what inspires you most?
As a journalist, I think other people’s stories inspire me a lot. Also, I’m eternally inspired by the arts and how they can represent our beautiful struggle. I find some of my most inspiring moments while reading a book or in a gallery, when the artist conveys in one line, or a brushstroke, a feeling that’s lay dormant in me for some time.
What three tips would you give someone working on a freelance basis?
Freelancing (or freestyling as I call it) is a little like applying for several jobs a day and sometimes getting nothing back. I often feel like I couldn’t solicit a moth to a flame, let alone a commissioning email from an editor. Keep going! Journal your successes and refer to them in moments of self-doubt. It can be a slog but the work-life balance it can afford you more than makes up for the inevitable daily rejection.