Western Mail: Mental health toolkit for trade union reps
Research indicates that the majority of employers seriously under-estimate the prevalence of mental health problems among their employees; nearly half think that none of their staff will ever have a mental health problem. However, it is estimated that 1 in 6 workers experience depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time.
Despite these statistics we don’t talk enough about mental health at work and as a result people don’t get the support they need.
In fact, a 2009 report by the Mental Health Promotion Network stated that the costs associated with poor mental health in the workplace amount to nearly to £1.2 billion a year, equivalent to £860 for every employee in the Welsh workforce. This includes the costs of sickness absence, reduced productivity and increased staff turnover. These figures may well have got worse in an environment of public sector cuts, pay freezes and increased pressures on staff.
I’ve mentioned this research before, but unfortunately we still have to make the case for employers to step up and take mental health seriously. A mentally healthy workforce is a more productive workforce and we all need to look at ways that we can improve mental health at work.
One way that employers have been engaging with the mental health agenda is though the Time to Change Wales organisational pledge. By signing the pledge, employers make a public declaration that they will take action to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination within their organisation and in the wider community. This requires strong leadership from the top and the involvement and engagement of staff throughout the organisation.
Trade union activists have been particularly supportive of the mental health agenda and some time ago we began a conversation with the Wales TUC, which represents nearly half a million workers in Wales. They told us that mental health problems were becoming a major issue for workers across Wales and that increasing numbers of trade union representatives were asking for advice and guidance about how to support people in their workplace.
About six months ago we launched our workers’ mental health information booklet, a document produced in collaboration the Wales TUC Equality Committee. It was very well received and aimed to inform workers about mental health, break down myths and encourage people to talk more openly about mental health and access help and support when they need it. However, we also recognised that trade union representatives were calling for something more comprehensive, which would help them to support colleagues experiencing mental health problems and signpost them on to relevant services. They were also looking for information about employee rights and ideas for activities to improve mental health and wellbeing in their workplaces.
As a result of these conversations we have spent the last few months working on a mental health toolkit for trade union representatives and we are absolutely delighted to be launching it at the Wales TUC mental health conferences in north and south Wales. The toolkit includes a wealth of information from a range of sources, demonstrating why mental health is relevant to trade unionists. It also provides a number of tools to help them talk to colleagues about mental health, encourage them to improve their wellbeing, signpost them to primary, online and telephone support services and campaign for better policies and practices at work.
The Wales TUC is leading the way with their engagement and commitment to supporting their members to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Let’s hope that this leads to positive engagement with Welsh employers and starts to deliver real change across Wales. We hope that the toolkit starts conversations, raises awareness and helps people to speak out and seek help. We hope it gives trade union reps the tools to make a difference to the mental health and wellbeing of their colleagues and helps to improve the culture, policies and practice within organisations across Wales.
We know that change takes time and that everything can’t be solved overnight - but small steps within lots of organisations will start to make a real difference to mental health and wellbeing in Wales.