Home / The Rix & Kay Blog / World Mental Health Day: ‘Mental health is a Universal Human Right’.
Georgina Hardcastle

HR Consultant - East Sussex (Uckfield)

10th October 2023

World Mental Health Day: ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’

Every year, World Mental Health Day is celebrated on the 10th October. This year’s theme as set by the World Federation of Mental Health, is ‘Mental health is a Universal Human Right’.

World Mental Health Day is about raising awareness of mental health and driving positive change for everyone’s mental health. It’s an opportunity for employers to continue the conversation and keep the topic of mental health high on the business agenda, which might include revisiting mental health and well-being strategies in the workplace.

The stigma that surrounds mental health continues to stop employees who are at their most vulnerable, from asking for and accepting help. To break that stigma, it’s vital for businesses to make support for the mental health wellbeing of their staff a business priority. A priority which makes it clear that asking for support should be standard practice. Mental Health support should not be regarded as an ‘employee benefit’.

Mental health is a Universal Human Right

When we say ‘Mental health is a Universal Human Right’, we mean everyone with poor mental health has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to be treated on an equal basis to others.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2022 that ‘one in eight people globally are living with mental health conditions, which can impact their physical health, their well-being, how they connect with others, and their livelihoods. Mental health conditions are also affecting an increasing number of adolescents and young people’ and ‘many are excluded from community life and discriminated against’.

Robin Williams once said ‘everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always’. This couldn’t be more accurate and this is why ‘we need to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right’. (WHO).

The Centre for Medical Health recently concluded that ‘a new national mental health plan is needed if England is to turn around its rising tide of long-term mental ill health’. Once again indicating the severity of the consequence of not supporting mental health and well-being.

Why must supporting mental health at work be high on the business agenda.

Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) recently found that ‘almost half of UK workers are ‘running on empty,’ with burnout, mental ill health, and work-related stress now costing the economy £28 billion annually.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) cited in their Work Intensification report 2023 that ‘employees are reporting increased workplace intensity and more significant pressure at work’ with ‘55% of employees feeling that work is getting more intense and demanding and 61% of employees saying they feel exhausted at the end of most working days’.

Earlier this year, Deloitte reported that ‘64% of managers have considered quitting for a job that would better support their wellbeing’. Deloitte also reported that ‘70% of managers cited organisational barriers to supporting staff wellbeing, including company policy, heavy workload, unsupportive workplace culture, and not being equipped with the right skills’.

These statistics and Reports show the continued seriousness of poor mental health and the increasing importance of having a supportive workplace culture.

WHO reported that mental health conditions are affecting an increasing number of adolescents and young people. As a mother of an almost 15 years old daughter, I hear about so many of her friends or from other parents about how their children are self-harming, needing mental health assessments at school or refusing to attend school due to anxiety and depression. This is so concerning. How many of these teenagers will carry those mental health conditions with them into the workplace in a few years? It is something which all businesses will have to address so that their workplaces are welcoming and ‘safe’ places for all to work in.

Employers should consider working practices carefully – Hybrid working can have a hidden impact on mental health

The Covid-19 pandemic changed working practices for many organisations. We are now in an age where hybrid working or permanently working from home has become the norm – for many employees. These working practices have many benefits such as improved work-life balance with less of a stressful commute to work, more flexibility of working hours, more leisure time and the ability to manage child-caring responsibilities more effectively.

There can be downsides in terms of mental health and wellbeing, when working in a hybrid way. Recent research has indicated that hybrid working can lead to the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life and, in turn, increased burnout as employees will often work longer hours, checking emails into the evening or feel the need to be available at all times. Remote workers also miss out on face-to-face interaction which can lead to loneliness and a general disconnection to the workplace. Furthermore, while hybrid and remote working are usually associated with better productivity, employees can feel increased pressure to prove that they are actually working, creating heightened anxiety. This is a particular issue with younger workers.

What steps can employers take in their workplaces to meet everyone’s mental health needs?

Employers are encouraged to take practical and proactive steps to ensure that their employees know what support is available to them both at work and externally, to help their mental health remain a top priority. Too many employers still have a very reactive approach to employee well-being. According to latest research from Towergate Health & Protection, ‘42% of companies still opt for directing employees to support [only] when requested, which can fall short when it comes to encouraging engagement or effective utilisation’.

  • Keep the conversation about mental well-being ongoing all year round by supporting different campaigns to reduce stigma and raise awareness. Encourage all levels of staff to speak openly and honestly about mental health to break down the stigma. This will encourage people to seek help.
  • Raise funds, attend events supporting mental health or donate to mental health organisations to show your support as an employer to those struggling with mental health.
  • Organise or encourage wellness activities for employees to help energise them and encourage them to think about their well-being/self-care. Make time for this in everyone’s diaries. Unfortunately, most of us are often too busy with work and daily demands to even stop and think about our mental health or well-being.
  • Train managers on mental health awareness to equip them with the knowledge and tools they can use during difficult conversations, how to recognise the warning signs that someone might be struggling and how to identify what adjustments may need to be put in place to meet that individual’s particular needs. It’s imperative that managers understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. ACAS offer free online training and many other resources to support mental health at work. Managers should look for particular ways that hybrid workers may need assistance with managing their time.
  • Have regular and meaningful check-ins/one-to-one meetings. A simple ‘how are you? strengthens relationships and offers people the opportunity to talk openly should they wish to.
  • Be mindful of uncharacteristic behaviour such as turning off the camera during video meetings, changes in attitudes to work, mood changes or a general disconnection to work. Put time aside to have a chat with employees to understand more.
  • Provide accessible mental health support. Remind employees about internal support services such as Employee Assistance Programmes. Consider providing regular well-being webinars that focus on key areas such as general well-being, adapting to change, stress and anxiety, breathing & relaxation techniques, financial wellbeing or nutrition are important to show commitment making mental health a priority for all.
  • Have Mental Health First Aiders or Champions. People sometimes find it easier to speak to someone who isn’t their Manager. Peer support allows people to support one another outside of the line-management structure.
  • Consider offering Mental Health Days. Taking time off can be just as essential to preserve and restore one’s mental health as it is physical health. Businesses could consider explicitly including mental health days in paid leave policies. It’s important for leaders to regularly highlight this and use it themselves so that the rest of the workforce don’t think the policy is only there for appearances or any type of employee relations compliance target.
  • Where possible for the business, offer well managed flexible working arrangements such as a flexi-time scheme or hybrid/remote working to show your recognition that work-life balance is crucial for mental health well-being. When considering remote working, employers should always ensure the most effective communication measures are in place to mitigate issues such as isolation. For example – book in team lunches, team activities or have some meetings in person when previously it would have been held remotely.

All employees deserve a safe and supportive workplace. Whilst progress has been made regarding supporting mental health, there is still much to be done to destigmatise poor mental health and to establish a positive, open mental health culture within workplaces.

Do you need help managing mental health in the workplace?

The GatekeeperHR team is here to help. GatekeeperHR offers a great value fixed cost, Employment Law and HR ‘off the shelf’ package of key documentation service or a Retainer Service which provides businesses with access to a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and HR professionals who you can speak to, or meet face-to-face, at any time. The service includes a full HR compliance audit, access to an online portal full of valuable employment law and HR resources and an annual training session on topics of your choosing. To find out more about GatekeeperHR, please contact us.

Alternatively, you can browse the GatekeeperHR website, sign up for a free trial or download our brochure by visiting www.gatekeeperhr.co.uk