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As a solicitor of quite a number of years standing, and having worked in several niche practices during my career so far, I have seen at first hand the problems that working in a stressful environment can cause. And I’m not talking about colleagues shouting at each other, or storming off when they don’t receive an immediate answer to their technical legal questions.
What I’m referring to are the more subtle nuances in changed behaviour that a highly stressed and potentially toxic environment can instill. Issues such as dreading going into the workplace, or perhaps even feelings of worthlessness in meetings. Or maybe anxiety when carrying out your day to day tasks within the office.
And of course, it’s worth remembering that there are some pretty alarming statistics surrounding the incidence of mental health matters in the United Kingdom. Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
Indeed, in England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Startling - and worrying - figures.
Even more concerning, according to the Mental Health Charity MIND, almost eight people out of every one hundred suffer from mixed anxiety and depression, while 20 people in every hundred harbour suicidal thoughts.
The fact remains that workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy a huge sum of money in terms of lost production, absenteeism and work inefficiencies. And, moreover, it means - by implication - that much talent is lost from the commercial environment. Even worse, skilled, socially gifted people are affected by workplace mental health issues, and those worries, concerns, anxieties and traumas are then brought back into their home lives. In other words, it affects people in their personal lives, as well as at work.
Of course, if this was a physical illness or complaint, and it happened to be causing absenteeism and diminished performance, it would be treated with the utmost seriousness. And yet, because it relates to mental health, the issue is generally swept under the carpet by most business and certainly by many law firms. In the traditional parlance, it’s simply something that’s “not talked about”. This means that, in practice, mental health has been and remains the very poor relation to physical pain, injury and suffering. As such, ailments that arise from mental stress, anxiety and other issues are not given the priority that they deserve. This isn’t to say that all employers don’t care about mental health but the bare facts show that mental ill health in the workplace needs to be made a priority as the current position simply is not sustainable.
So, my call to all commercial organisations, especially those in the legal sector, is this: Please treat mental health with at least the same priority, sense of urgency and importance as physical illness. By doing so, you will engender trust, positive engagement and, of course, a happier, more loyal workforce.
I am in the process of creating some practical guidance which will deliver tangible results for workplaces, for whatever size the business and wherever they are on their own journey, in creating a better workplace, there is always somewhere to start. I will be launching this tool kit at an event I am hosting in October 2018 in Leeds to mark World Mental Health Day. If anyone wants details about the event of the toolkit please get in touch on Jodie.firstname.lastname@example.org
My petition can be accessed and signed at https://www.change.org/p/steven-brine-mp-having-a-mental-health-first-aider-in-the-workplace-should-be-mandatory
Jodie Hill is the managing director of Leeds-based boutique employment and discrimination law practice Thrive Law
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