Mental health: raising awareness, fuelling disclosure, creating demand

Louise Aston, Director, Business in the Community wellbeing at work writes of the increasing demand for new, and the pressure on existing services as the silence surrounding mental health begins, albeit slowly, to shatter. 

The Royals have done much to raise the profile of mental health by going public with their own experiences. Last month Prince Harry made headlines as he disclosed that he had sought help after the death of his mother, Diana.

National anti-stigma campaigns, Heads Together and Time to Change have been successful in raising national awareness. Mental health issues have never had the same level of understanding or prominence in public debate as today. 

However, we know from experience that as awareness is raised, anxieties also rise and more people disclose issues, creating greater demand for services. Since this year’s London Marathon, with Heads Together as the Charity of the Year, calls to Mind’s helpline have increased by a massive 40%.

These campaigns encourage people to talk about their mental health in the same way as their physical health. Although there is a growing movement of enlightened employers that are actively embedding mental health into organisational culture, the majority are not tackling the culture of silence that surrounds mental health. To date, less than 500 employers have signed up to Time to Change employer’s pledge.

This rise in mental health awareness could lead to higher employee expectations of employer response, potentially fuelling mass mental health disclosure.  Disclosure by employees working for less enlightened employers, where an empathetic culture doesn’t exist and appropriate support not always available, could be counter-productive and damaging to ending the silence around mental health. 

Progressive employers may face the challenge of managing unprecedented demand for services. Therefore, the creation of a triage risk assessment filter that differentiates between employees at the highest risk, needing crisis or clinical interventions versus the identification of non-clinical cases and anxieties from the ‘worried well’ is key.

Making the most of existing support, for example, under-utilised EAPs, (Employee Assistance Programmes)  on-line tools and ensuring that line managers are trained to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health and be equipped to sign post colleagues to support are vital.

Meanwhile, the chronic underfunding of NHS mental health care and long waiting times remain set to continue.

Could now be the time for public health and business to explore a fresh approach to improving mental health treatment?