This week’s Friday Blog comes from Lord Dennis Stevenson, Keynote Speaker at the Safer Highways Mental Health Summit.

In his short note, designed to act as a pre-curser to his speech, Lord Dennis outlines his own personal involvement in the world of Mental Health and also gives a little colour to the “Thriving at Work” report.

“The main purpose of the talk at the summit is to brief you on the report (Thriving at Work) that Paul Farmer, the CEO of Mind, and I produced for the Prime Minister some 18 months ago (link https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers).

However, it is important to emphasise that I am not professionally trained although I’ve had considerable involvement in the world of mental health. My main credentials are …

 

  • Personal experience of mental ill health.
  • The promoter of the first serious piece of legislation about mental health (The Mental Health Discrimination Bill) some five years ago.
  • The Founder of MQ Transforming Mental Health(https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/) … the main charity investing in research into mental health.
  • The report (Thriving at Work)referred to above.

 

THRIVING AT WORK – WHAT WE FOUND

When the PM asked us to produce a report on how to improve mental health at work, Paul and I assumed that we would write an impassioned report concentrating on the misery caused by mental ill health. And I hope we have. However, I’m very glad that we also commissioned Deloitte to produce a report (independently published) to assess the effect of mental ill health on the economy.

Some of the key points that emerged were …

  1. On pretty conservative assumptions, Deloittes calculate the economy is losing in excess of £100 billion a year as a result of mental ill health.
  2. Of that, it looks to us as though at least half could be saved by intelligent and very modest investment.
  3. Astonishingly to us 300,000 people leave the workforce every year with a long term mental illness.

 

Or to put it another way, leave aside compassion there is a very strong business argument for investing in improving the mental health of a workforce

 

WHAT’S TO BE DONE?

At the base level, the solution is simple.

If anyone reading this goes out on the street and asks someone how is their mental health, most people will assume they are being asked about an illness.

Our report suggests that the sooner the population in the UK realises that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health the better.

We should all from an early age be brought up to understand this and just as we do with physical health learn little things that can help improve our mental health. We will of course, as a result, be better able to spot other people’s problems and to help.

In the report we suggest that at any point in time we are all either thriving, struggling or ill. Many of us move between all three states. All of us move between the first two. And in a world in which we are aware of our own mental health, the help of professionally trained people should be concentrated on those who are truly ill.

To quote Professor Ian Goodyer, who has just stood down as Professor of Developmental Psychiatry at Cambridge “It’s not so long since the human race did not know how to deal with a cut finger without medical assistance. They now need to learn how to deal with a cut mind!”

 

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN PRACTICE FOR A BUSINESS?

First, given that few if any of us were brought up to think that we had mental health and to learn how to cope with it, leave aside all other considerations (such as the improvement in profits that could be made), the workplace is probably as good a place as any to take remedial action ! I suggest that if you’re interested in how to achieve this, you read the Farmer/Stevenson report – or at least the Executive Summary! – but in summary …

Every business however large or small should have some form of mental health plan preferably as part of an overall health plan showing employees that …

  • The company cares about mental health.
  • If they report sick with mental health not only is it unlikely to affect their careers but they will be well supported.
  • Steps should be taken to encourage internal “normal” discussion of mental health. This could start from two very obvious formal mechanisms …

Anyone of us who has at least one direct report could emulate the sadly late Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, and include the mental health and wellbeing of employees as a key factor in annual performance reviews. It is very easy and cheap to acquire metrics to hold these reviews to account.

A small number of British companies now include the “mental health and wellbeing of employees” as a standing item on board meeting agendas. That of itself forces internal discussion.  Arguably more important than that is the part that senior managers can play

It is clear that when the most senior person or senior people talk about their own mental health or people close to them, that has a huge effect on internal attitudes and behaviour. Sue Owen who has just retired as Permanent Secretary of DCMS did this. Unsurprisingly DCMS emerged two or three years ago as the department scoring higher on most of the positive measures. I will enlarge in my talk about what this means in practice.

Finally

… to state the obvious … there are a number of inexpensive training mechanisms either those offered by some of the NGOs, the mental health first aid organisation or indeed some of the groundbreaking approaches pioneered by the private sector for example Thames Water.

I LOOK FORWARD TO WELCOMING MANY OF YOU TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE 20TH JUNE FOR WHAT I HOPE WILL BE AN INSPIRING EVENT.

 

LORD DENNIS STEVENSON

 

 

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