Mental health awareness work?

World Mental Health Day wants to end the stigma

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World Mental Health Day: mental health awareness can be so much work

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Discussing mental health can be its own minefield for journalists. Even before putting pen to paper, or digit to keyboard, there is the seemingly impossible task of selecting a photograph to accompany the piece. How can the vast and expansive definition of mental health be summed up with just one image? A picture can represent a thousand words, but those thousands of words each contrast and mean something different from one person to another.

The choice of illustration by many publications is the clichéd 'headclutcher', but this can be problematic. Time to Change advises journalists and publications to use alternative images to depict mental health. The mental health organisation, whose aim is to end mental health discrimination, argues that images used in stories can be “just as damaging as the words or the headlines”. As they note, people with mental health problems do not look depressed all the time and the 'headclutcher' does not represent what they face day-to-day.

Mental health cannot be portrayed in a single photograph, as there are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, including more common disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. While they vary in mood and personality changes, they all share one thing: each mental health problem still faces stigma today.

World Mental Health Day is held every year on October 10 to help challenge this stigma, and raise awareness about mental health issues across the globe. The theme for this year's awareness day, the 25th in its history, is mental health in the workplace. And that's why this background piece for Perspecs has used an image on an ordinary day in an office: there's no 'headclutchers', no melodrama, no forlorn look into the distance; just workers getting on with their jobs, because that's the reality for many people.

A hidden reality for workers, however, is cope with mental health problems silently. According to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics, and Unum, nearly 15 per cent experience mental health problems in the workplace, with women in full-time employment almost twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men.

Around 13 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. However, this could be a conservative estimate, because nearly half of workers "make up a physical health excuse if they were off for a mental health reason, rather than discussing the problem with colleagues or managers", the Daily Mirror reports. Employees do not want to bring the subject up for fear of being marginalised or losing their job, with one in three workers not feeling safe being open about their mental health at work.

Removing the stigma from mental health in the workplace could be beneficial for both the welfare of the employees of a company, and the pockets of their employers. Better mental health support in the workplace could save £8 billion a year for UK businesses, according to Metro. They argue that preventative measures could be cost-effective in the long run for employers, with workplace intervention such as care management and screening for those living with mental health issues or for those who are at risk of mental illness.

This is estimated to cost £30.90 per employee for an assessment, plus £240 for cognitive behavioural therapy, if required. The benefits outweigh the costs with the net profit over a two-year period for a company of 500 employees estimated to be £83,278.

The extraordinary thing about mental health is that it is so ordinary, whether it is in the workplace or on the streets. The oft-cited figure is that one in four of us suffers from a mental health problem. The extraordinary thing about this ordinary problem is the strength and courage shown by those facing it, despite the stigma and fear.

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