Next Wednesday is World Mental Health Day, which seeks to build awareness, drive education and reduce social stigma around mental health. In the UK, in any one year, roughly one in four people are likely to be suffering from a mental health condition. Consequently, mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and others) have resulted in 15.8 million days of sickness absence in 2016 alone. For businesses large and small, that’s a real challenge, and I’ve long said that taking care of the mental health of staff, customers and even the wider community should be a priority for any business.
To many people, mental health is a deeply personal issue, partly because there is so much stigma. And the numbers confirm it: just 13 per cent feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager. And only 53 per cent of all employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues like depression and anxiety at work at all. It’s a vicious cycle: evidence shows that those who do open up put themselves at risk of more serious repercussions for their mental health. I think that’s an unacceptable situation.
At Virgin, we take the mental health of our people and that of our wider community very seriously. And I’m proud to say that some of the Virgin companies are doing wonderful work to make sure their staff and customers are well and feel taken care. One fantastic and inspiring example is Virgin Australia, who have launched “Better Me”, a mobile and web-based platform for health and wellbeing of staff. And in the UK, Virgin Active have partnered with Salary Finance to explore and address the impact of financial wellbeing on our mental health.
But there is always more that we could be doing. That’s why our team at Virgin Management brought together the People Directors of nearly all of our businesses this week to discuss ways in which we can ensure that mental health challenges don’t go unnoticed and that everyone in the Virgin family has somewhere to go when they feel their mental health is affected. Thankfully, there is a good amount of great research and best practice to learn from. Monitor Deloitte, who formerly supported Mind as their national charity partner, have compiled a wide array of data to present a compelling case for business engagement on mental health. And to understand what effective business action could look like, look no further than Thames Water, who have built one of the most comprehensive employee wellbeing programmes I have ever seen. Equally important is building awareness in the broader public. Mental Health UK and CALM are just two examples of charities that have launched impactful and touching public campaigns to draw attention to very specific challenges.
It’s important to note that there are also now very helpful digital platforms, like Headspace and Soma Analytics that support businesses and employees in building greater resilience, through meditation, mindfulness training and other exercises.
These examples present just a small snapshot of how business can engage on mental health and wellbeing. But what’s important is that no business has any more excuses not to take action.