Rachel Pinto discusses mental health and well-being at work and the issues of depression.
Rachel is a Senior Research Officer at Acas focusing on policy research.
In depression awareness week it's only natural to talk about mental health at work and in particular, depression, which is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting around one in six working age people at any one time. And yet, talking about depression is anything but natural for those deeply affected by it whether directly or indirectly.
At Acas, we are interested in well-being at work, not just physical well-being but also across the mental health dimension (see Advisory booklet - Promoting positive mental health at work [1Mb]), so what more can be done to support those with depression in the workplace?
A new report from the Depression Alliance - Work in Progress tackles this very issue, with the fundamental aim of improving employment opportunities for those affected with depression. At the heart of this report it is clear that more needs to be done to break down the barriers and encourage employees to feel comfortable speaking up about how they're feeling at work. However, it is equally important to help managers feel equipped to respond to their staff when they are encountering difficulties.
Speaking at the report launch, James Morris MP talked of how mental health at work shouldn't simply be 'managed' but rather employers should be thinking more creatively about how to support individuals with depression. This means taking things one step at a time, helping to manage workloads effectively and welcoming open and frank conversations to help employees feel supported when they need it most.
The reality of dealing with depression at work was put forward by Katie Oliver from Depression Alliance, as she described the catalogue of events that led her to breaking point in her previous role. In dealing with one tragic event after another, the otherwise normal demands of work were too much to handle. She talked of feelings of anxiety, isolation and uncertainty that are all too common for those dealing with depression. The simplest of tasks seemed too difficult, and for many, like Katie, they do not realise anything is seriously wrong until more physical signs are apparent. Katie has successfully learnt from this experience, but she stresses the need to talk about mental health issues at work at regular intervals not just when you're at breaking point.
It was inspiring to hear Katie's story, but also that employers, like the Royal Mail are coming up with new initiatives to build up awareness of mental health issues. They have developed a 'Feeling First Class' scheme to ensure mental health and well-being are a key part of their training for managers.
Acas is keen to hear stories like this and help employers and employees feel supported in navigating mental health issues at work. Working with the University of Essex, Acas is developing a series of research case studies from employers and employees to share their experiences of dealing with mental health issues at work, and more importantly providing a source of good practice and ideas to others in similar situations.
Through sharing insights and encouraging more meaningful dialogue, we can help raise awareness of conditions like depression not just in 'depression awareness week' but all year round.