According to research by Deloitte in 2022, the total annual cost of poor mental health to employers increased by 25% since 2019, totalling between £53-56 billion in 2020/202
World Mental Health Day, October 10 and the theme for 2022 is “Make Mental Health & Wellbeing for all a Global Priority”. World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity to talk about mental health, how we need to look after it, and how important it is to talk about things and get help if you are struggling. As a society, we now live with permanent uncertainty – this will become part of life – but we also need to reflect on the toll these continued uncertainties are having on our wider health and wellbeing.
Whilst current figures are being assessed, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2021 that one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. They go on to say that around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide! Anecdotal evidence is strongly showing that the “post-Pandemic” figures will show a significant increase to what is already a staggering number of people living with mental health disorders.
According to research by Deloitte in 2022, the total annual cost of poor mental health to employers increased by 25% since 2019, totalling between £53-56 billion in 2020/2021.
But is mental health and mental illness the same thing? In short, no they’re not! By understanding the differences provides some insights into why, sometimes, we can overlook when someone needs help, and ensure they receive the correct treatment. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) points out that many individuals with poor mental health (our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, affecting how we think, feel, and act), have not been formally diagnosed with a mental illness (including: anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia). Also, many people who do have a diagnosed mental illness “can experience periods of physical, mental, and social wellbeing.”
This is when the stigma attached to mental health / mental illness causes further issues, discrimination and sadly creates a situation where people don’t talk about what is worrying them – some would say this coupled with a general lack of understanding between mental health and mental illness impacts on the way we interact with others, handle problems, and make decisions.
The way mental health and mental illness is handled is different across the globe, and the approaches that each country takes are sometimes at different stages especially in how they perceive the condition culturally! For this reason, having discussed this very topic recently with a number of senior HR professionals, all agreed one key challenge to having a robust wellbeing strategy is how to embed it across different countries. It is important, therefore, to adapt their wellbeing polices accordingly.
Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, not unlike other regions, the stigma around mental health (and mental illness!) is prevalent. It remains a barrier for people to openly discuss or access the right level of care – and in some countries, the limited infrastructure remains a further problem. For many countries across Eastern Europe, institutionalised care remains a barrier for those with mental health disorders – there is also a wider issue when it comes to professionals in these countries moving away, creating a backlog with limited numbers of people able to properly care for those who most need help!
A report from Notes from Poland, set out how the three-stage system in Poland aims to move part of the burden of mental health support from psychiatry wards to local institutions offering services of psychologists and counsellors. The system includes improvements to hospital infrastructure, launch of a round-the-clock helpline, online support and prevention programmes, as well as easier access to specialists.
In Lithuania, considerable stigma around mental health remains – the country’s mental health system is largely lacking clear pathways for care, with a heavy reliance on hospitals to provide what support they can.
A worrying yet consistent observation is the lack of care pathways available for mental health-related illnesses across Eastern Europe. For example, research on the state of the Serbian mental health system conducted by the German Association for International Cooperation, conducted in 2022, showed that approximately one-third of the population of Serbia have clinically significant disorders that can be related to the symptoms of at least one disorder, while one-fifth showed symptoms clinically indicative of two or more disorders.
Having talked with our team in Turkey recently about mental health and wider disorders, the growing number of people being diagnosed, and seeking treatment is growing there too! Anxiety and depression has significantly increased, and according to the data of the Ministry of Health of Turkey (MoH), nearly one-fifth of the population face mental health issues, over three-million people suffer from depression, and of a population of about 83 million, some 9 million people seek mental health support in Turkey each year.
More proactive and preventative measures, coupled with ongoing reforms (and financial support) is needed in order to continue building a culture where employees (people!) feel comfortable talking about their mental health (and mental illnesses). It is unlikely the stigma will be removed, but collectively we can work towards removing this across as many cultures and countries as possible. One of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is “good health & wellbeing”, and the management of employee health and wellbeing must therefore remain a key agenda leadership agenda item, and core element of an employer’s employee value proposition.
Looking inwardly, at GrECo, we take a proactive approach when it comes to our peoples’ wellbeing – it is not a “tick-box” exercise for us! We have made employee wellbeing a priority that forms part of our culture, embedded within the DNA of our business.
For GrECo, looking after our people’s mental health is every day! The truth is in the pudding…by offering access to counselling, “wellbeing days off”, yoga, healthy food, stress prevention tools, and listening to what is not being said has created an environment where some of the stigma attached to mental health and mental illness has been broken down. Whilst all of these initiatives are great, having recently discussed this with our Head of Group HR, we are the first to admit our approach is not perfect yet, but it is a continual topic on our senior leadership agenda. For example, this forms part of regular discussions I have with my country Health & Benefit leaders to ensure our people are being listened to, supported, and importantly watching out for the “unseen” changes in behaviour and health. We believe a “one-size-fits-all” strategy is no longer an option, our people are all different and in return they should have a safe environment to be able to talk about what is affecting them and be reassured a more tailored approach to looking after their mental health is in place!
Whatever the differences in regions, all employers need to focus on developing a mental health and wellbeing strategy that promotes more openness around mental health and ensure they are supporting to people with mental illness. It can’t just be a tick box exercise. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is unlikely to be effective, as different countries are at different stages in their awareness of and acceptance of the issues related to mental health and mental illness.
The working culture, and making sure it’s not contributing to high levels of stress and anxiety is a key area to assess, on an ongoing basis. Offering greater flexibility and the ability to work at home could help employees deal with stress. Creating a working environment where people feel comfortable and able to ask for some time off if they need is all part of providing a supportive and open culture. Ensuring people know how to access help is vital too.
Often companies have mental health programmes in place, but employees don’t know where to go or feel uncomfortable asking, so focusing on communication around mental health support and ensuring employees know how to access appropriate pathways are key. Over the next few months, globally, we will have further occasions to also consider how to support our people such as World Menopause Month, Men’s Health Awareness week, International Stress Awareness week, Talk Money week, and of course not forgetting our children during Children’s Mental Health week – all forming part of the three core pillars of Financial, Mental and Physical Wellbeing.
So, as we approach World Mental Health Day on October 10, it creates an opportunity to really consider how we can create a more open culture and consider how wellbeing strategies can support their employees’ wellbeing. Without doubt, prevention and early intervention is key, but reducing stigma is also important when talking about mental health, mental illness, or asking for help! Every day provides the opportunity for employers to demonstrate the steps they are taking to ensure their employees’ wellbeing is high on boardroom and leadership agendas, and how this is embedded within the company DNA!
We have come a long way already. Wellbeing is a complex dynamic between the culture of the company, the work environment, and the mental, physical, psychological and social health of its employees but more needs to be done to ensure this discussion becomes an intrinsic part of the day-to-day company culture.
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Adam Riley, Cert PFS
Group Practice Leader Health & Benefits
T +44 (0) 7507 788 144