Leaders need to drive the health agenda

As a leader in any organisation we should be just as concerned about the mental health as the physical health of our employees.  The baseline assessment (Mental Health Research Report) undertaken by the University of Birmingham for the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Mental Health Commission  chaired by Norman Lamb found that approximately 40% of sickness absence relates to a mental health problem, 4.1 million working days a year are lost to mental health problems and presenteeism (when people are at work but not functioning effectively because of mental health problems) costs employers over a billion pounds a year.  Here in my own organisation stress both work related and non work related, including anxiety and depression is the biggest cause of sickness absence after Post Operation Recovery and accounts for 27% of sickness each year.

Improving productivity is one of the biggest challenges facing the region if it is to achieve its economic objectives but the arguments in favour of doing something to radically improve mental health and wellbeing are not just economic ones.  They are also moral arguments.

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime and 1 in 6 adults have a mental health problem at any one time.  477 people in the west midlands lost their lives through suicide in 2015 and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 49 in the UK. As Thrive West Midlands , An Action Plan to drive better mental health and wellbeing in the West Midlands, says “Things Must Change”

The Thrive West Midlands plan (Action Plan) includes a host of actions which are now being taken forward including work within the criminal justice system, within housing, within the NHS and within communities but the area I want to focus on here is employment.  Work is good for our mental health and wellbeing whilst being unemployed has a negative effect with people who are out of work between 4 and 10 times more likely to develop anxiety and depression.  So the Thrive plan includes an £8.4 million programme to help people back into work and initiatives to encourage employers to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their employees including the launch of a “West Midlands Workplace Wellbeing Commitment” and work with the government to trial a fiscal incentive to encourage small and medium sized employers to take action to improve employee wellbeing.

Here in Dudley Council I have also taken steps to improve the support we offer our staff.  We have improved the counselling and wellbeing support we offer employees, are reviewing our approach to absence management to ensure parity between mental and physical health and are working towards achieving the excellence standard (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence)

Stigma is also a key issue for employees who can be anxious about sharing their mental health condition with colleagues and managers.  All organisations need to do more to counter this and the “This is Me” campaign is a great example of how this can be done

Article by Sarah Norman – Chief Executive, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council

(find out more about Sarah)

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