We Need To Talk About Mental Health In The Workplace || Wildgoose

For many people with mental health issues, the workplace is a minefield. The very essence of most jobs involves being there at a set time every day, but we all know that mental illness has no schedule and often remains a taboo subject in the office.

Workers struggle to get out of bed and get into work on time - sometimes it can take the most monumental effort to simply get dressed. Once at work you then have to get on with your job effectively, which can be unbearable for sufferers. Not only that, but the very act of going into work when you are feeling mentally ill can make your symptoms worse and it can easily snowball.

If you take time off work as a result of mental illness, you can be left wrongly battling with feelings of embarrassment or guilt. Going back into work after taking time off can then become a nerve-wracking challenge, brimming over with anxiety.

We hope that one day these hurdles in the workplace will be a thing of the past. There has recently been a shift in the social stigma relating to mental in health in the workplace. Small differences are being made here and there, encouraging stories are being shared with ripples that are far-reaching. More channels for communication are opening up with the use of social media.

However, many companies struggle with the movement between awareness and actually taking action. A recent study from Mind revealed that mental health issues are the second biggest cause of absence from work in the UK.

 Research by Wildgoose found that a whopping 62% of employees they surveyed had taken a day off work due to anxiety, stress or depression in the last year. Yet, due to stigma, just under half of them had provided another reason for their absence to their employer.

Much needs to be done to change perceptions of mental health in the workplace. A company can put together a large amount of resources to support those with mental health issues, but those resources will go to waste if employees are to afraid to share the truth about their reason for taking time off. Having friends in the workplace to talk to is known to boost symptoms of wellbeing - also highlighting the importance of having a friend at work to confide in about how you are struggling.

It is vital that employees address this problem, not only for compassionate reasons, but also for business. It is estimated that the average cost to a business per employee as a result of absence due to mental health symptoms totals £1,035 per year. The Wildgoose research found that 7% of those they interviewed actually felt they had to resign from their job due to their mental health condition.


‘Presenteeism’ is where a person attends work, but they are not able to work to their full ability due to a mental health problem.

This in turn can lead to:

  • A decrease in productivity 
  • A deterioration of health 
  • Exhaustion
  • Mistakes potentially being made
  • Potential burn out 
  • Loss of revenue for the company if they have to find temporary resource cover due to the employee having to take time off work

The Wildgoose data also found that women were more likely to continue to work through mental health symptoms, even though they are more likely to suffer a mental health condition. Perhaps this is because it is often up to women to be the primary childcarer and so they feel they can’t take time off as the household still has to run. Perhaps it is because women may often feel like they have something to prove in the workplace, with recently well publicised discrepancies in pay between men and women.

The data also found that those with a commute to work were also more vulnerable to mental health problems, with the stress of a long commute including delays and strikes and earlier starts in the morning contributing to symptoms.

Differences in workplace positions were also highlighted in this study, with those in management roles more able to take time off as opposed to interns who are trying to impress the company and feel unable to say they have a mental health problem for fear of appearing unreliable to the company.

Companies need to start responding to mental illness in the same way as they would to physical illness. They need to create a structure where employees feel comfortable to share their mental health problems with their managers.

There are a few things that companies can do better regarding mental health, including:

  • Openly talking about mental health and wellbeing 
  • Encouraging work friendships with social areas and regular events 
  • Surveying staff happiness 
  • Offering support through handbooks or the intranet 
  • Holding return to work chats with the employee as they will be feeling anxious 
  • Regularly check-in with employees 

Positive stories that are shared on social media help get the wheels into motion for a more open discussion. For example, when Madalyn Parker took the courage to tell her team that she was taking a few days off to focus on her mental health, the response from her boss was so supportive and encouraging that she shared it on social media and it went viral.

If you find yourself struggling in the workplace due to a mental health condition, it is important that you feel able to be open with your employer and feel able to take time off to recover if you need to.

For advice, call:
  1. Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393 
  2. Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI - FREE and will not appear on your phone bill)

The data was supplied by Wildgoose.

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