Momentum is growing in the campaign for transparency around mental health at work

One of Business in the Community’s key ambitions is to encourage all businesses to help their employees be happy and healthy at work. Proactive support for positive mental wellbeing is a key aspect of this – and it is a hallmark for any responsible employer. On an individual level it helps employees to build their resilience and perform at their best, ready to overcome challenges in their personal and professional lives.

This mental resilience is something that is vital for a healthy society and a healthy economy, not just individual wellbeing.

Earlier this year we launched a landmark campaign to encourage proactive, public support for employee mental wellbeing at work. This was in direct response to the prevalence of mental health conditions and the culture of silence around the issue that causes suffering and discrimination for employees.

The campaign saw the creation of our Mental Health Champions Group, comprising of leading businesses, to help contribute new ideas on fostering engagement with mental wellbeing and to consider the first steps to help both employers and employees feel ready to talk openly around mental health.

One in four of us experience a mental health condition such as stress, depression or anxiety each year, contributing to the £26 billion that mental ill-health as a whole is thought to cost employers annually.

Friends Life, a member of our Mental Health Champions Group, recently published new research revealing that four in ten UK employees have experienced stress, anxiety or depression and not told their employer, with over half of all workers believing that being open about a common mental health problem would damage their career prospects.

It’s perfectly acceptable to take a couple of days off work because of the flu, but many wouldn’t even consider the same course of action for a bout of acute stress or anxiety. Over one quarter of employees in the survey admitted taking a sick day saying it was for a physical problem – when it was actually because of a mental health issue.

The anxiety around open discussion on mental health is also felt by employers themselves, who worry that open discussion on mental health issues experienced by their workforce risks reputational damage, making them look weak.

This challenge can only be overcome by encouraging more businesses to speak out about the support they offer to employees and embedding mental wellbeing as a strategic boardroom issue, in turn giving employees the reassurance that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Increasingly, organisations are now beginning to realise that strength is found in transparency.

We’ve been working hard over recent months to raise support for our campaign and to encourage more organisations to join the Mental Health Champions Group, with 14 companies currently signed up. This week we contributed to the inaugural European Business Leadership Forum to Target the Impact of Depression on the Workplace hosted by Barclays as well as Friends Life’s event Mental Health: Leading from the Boardroom – both dedicated to encouraging business-led action on employee mental health.

It is clear that momentum is growing behind this movement and progress has been exciting – but we have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead of us.

World Mental Health Day on 10 October gives us a chance to reflect on how we as a society think and engage with mental health. Are we ready and able to talk openly about mental health? If the answer is ‘no’, then there’s work to be done.

We want to reach a point where employees are able to discuss their mental health openly and without fear of stigma or discrimination. Transparency and accountability on employee mental health must be a key consideration for any organisation – no-one should be forced to suffer in silence. This is what we at Business in the Community want to achieve.

I look forward to updating you on the progress of our campaign and reviewing its progress one year on at Responsible Business Week 2015.

Louise Aston is Business in the Community's Workwell Director