Alexander Teahan, Mental Health Champion and Medical Writer for Attigo discusses the impact mental illness can have on gaining and retaining employment, and how Attigo’s strategy adapts MIND recommendations to support employee wellbeing.
The NHS estimate that one in six adults in the UK have a common mental health disorder (such as depression or anxiety), with factors such as living alone, being in poor physical health and being unemployed increasing the risk(1).
It is widely acknowledged that finding employment can positively impact mental health and wellbeing, and may even play a role in facilitating recovery, and the vast majority of people with serious mental illness want to find work(2-4), however, both unemployment and underemployment are high amongst those with mental illness, leaving individuals vulnerable to social isolation and economic hardship(5).
Supporting the wellbeing of those who are in employment is also vital, for any organisation; with mental ill health costing British businesses an estimated £26 billion per year – equivalent to £1035 for every employee – there is a strong economic case for taking care of employee wellbeing, and in turn reducing the cost of lost productivity and staff turnover(6).
Attigo is a social enterprise; Attigo’s social aim is to recruit people with long-term conditions, including mental health conditions, where they may otherwise find it difficult to gain or retain employment. Accompanying this aim, we have also developed a wellbeing strategy with the goal to support employees’ mental health through multiple channels. We have based this plan on the three-pronged approach recommended by the mental health charity MIND, to ensure we support all employees’ mental health in our workplace(2).
The Attigo approach
Promote wellbeing for all staff(2)
We ensure we have accessible information available to all staff members regarding wellbeing, this includes processes such as signposting to helpful services and self-help resources, managerial support through training and disorder-specific guidelines, for both physical and psychological problems.
Our office is an open and relaxed space where mental health is discussed frequently, without stigma. Reducing stigma comes from awareness, so frequent coffee mornings aligning with major mental health awareness days help us to keep to conversation flowing.
Coffee mornings are held in the board room with an open invitation to anyone in the company to come and go. With refreshments and relaxing music, it gives colleagues time to discuss mental health in a way that is comfortable and without stigma. With information available for anyone that may need it, including signposting guides, it also offers a chance for staff to learn about mental health, helping to create an open, understanding and empathetic working environment.
Flexible hours provide many of our colleagues the space they need to promote a strong work/life balance and attend any appointments they may need to such as for psychotherapy, while working from home can be a helpful approach for someone who is struggling to cope in the office but would prefer to continue their work.
Tackle the causes of work-related mental health difficulties(2)
Experiencing bullying at work not only increases rates of mental health difficulties and worsens health outcomes for the victim, but for those who witness it too(7); it is vital to have processes in place to discourage bullying, harassment and discrimination, encourage employees to report instances where it occurs and discipline the perpetrators when they have been found to have done so. The concepts must be clearly defined and communicated along with the processes, so employees are aware the organisation operates a zero-tolerance approach to such behavior. By doing so, Attigo hopes to protect the wellbeing of its employees and ensure a working environment free from bullying, harassment and discrimination and their detrimental consequences to employee wellbeing.
Some staff, including myself, have volunteered to be trained as a mental health first aider (MHFA). MHFAs can be an invaluable asset in supporting their colleagues’ mental health, through providing a channel to discuss their issues confidentially, be supported in a non-judgmental manner, and be signposted to potentially helpful avenues of external support. When employees feel their issues can be listened to, they will be less likely to bottle up their negative thoughts and feelings, leading to fewer problems with the build-up of stress further down the line; this role sits alongside our physical first aiders. We have also found that introducing our Chief Happiness Officer, Rufus (the Italian Greyhound) has also provided many of our colleagues a more mentally relaxing environment and has helped reduce stress, even if he does attempt to emotionally manipulate everyone into sharing their food whenever he can!
Support those with mental illness(2)
We have adapted a Wellness Action Plan, where every employee has a plan in place, developed in collaboration with their manager when they start and reviewed at their desired frequency. Staff can discuss their difficulties – physical or psychological, current or historical, the signs they are feeling worse, their triggers for worsening symptoms, and what reasonable adjustments the organisation could make to support their mental health and help them to stay well.
As a healthcare communications agency with a social aim, we are constantly developing our approach to our colleague’s health and we take parity of esteem extremely seriously. We believe that employing staff with varying backgrounds, perspectives and health status is not only morally right, but a core part of why we are successful; diversity of people leads to diversity in ideas, leading to ingenuity and innovation(8).
If you’re interested in finding out more around how to implement a wellbeing strategy to help staff in your organisation stay mentally well and support them through mental health difficulties, follow the links below:
Mindful Employer have collated many excellent resources, with step by step guidance on how to create a more mentally aware and supportive workplace, in their 10 step toolkit for employers.
Head to the MIND website, to access various free downloadable resources to support businesses in creating a mentally healthy workplace.
Head to Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) to learn about various kinds of mental health related training available, including a half-day mental health awareness course and a 2-day course to become accredited as a Mental Health First Aider.
1. NHS: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2014. [Accessed June 2019]
2. Mind: Transforming Employment and Back-to-Work Support for People with Mental Health Problems, 2014. [Accessed June 2019]
3. Modini M et al. The mental health benefits of employment: Results of a systemic meta-review. Aust Psychiatry, 2016; 24(4). doi:10.1177/1039856215618523
4. Crowther RE et al.. Helping people with severe mental illness to obtain work: systematic review. BMJ, 2001; 322: 204-208.
5. Dunn E et al.. The meaning and importance of employment to people in recovery from serious mental illness: Results of a qualitative study.Psychiatr Rehabil J, 2008; 32(1): 59-62.
6. Mindful Employer: Cost & Business Benefits. [Accessed June 2019]
7. Hansen Å. M et al. Bullying at work, health outcomes, and physiological stress response. Journal of psychosomatic research, 2006; 60(1): 63-72.
8. Martins EC., Terblanche F. Building organisational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation. European journal of innovation management, 2003; 6(1): 64-74.