'See Me' for mental health

Ella Rhodes reports on an anti-stigma campaign.

While it is more than acceptable to take time off work for certain types of illness, many employers still have issues with discussing mental health and supporting staff who are experiencing problems. A pilot project, involving four private sector employers in Scotland, aimed to tackle this and help to reduce mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

Scotland’s anti mental health stigma programme See Me, funded by Comic Relief and the Scottish government, ran the pilot thanks to workplace equality funding with employers ScotRail, Burness Paull LLP, Apex Hotels and Babcock. They hoped to assess the current experiences of staff working at those companies in terms of their experiences of mental health and stigma and ways to improve.

An improvement consultant examined the four employers, using staff surveys exploring attitudes and perceptions of mental health discrimination and stigma in the workplace. Across the four, supportive colleagues, awareness-raising of mental health and employee support were seen as positive; while training, workload pressures, policies and line management emerged as areas for improvement.

On the basis of this, as well as interviews with employers and employees, many of the companies created resources for managers to better support staff with mental health problems. Some created policies for mental health and wellbeing, some commissioned mental health training and all provided opportunities for their staff to have open conversations about mental health. All four of the companies involved are planning to run the staff survey again next year to assess whether there have been any improvements in their culture.

From its work See Me has suggested three areas of focus for employers who may be hoping to change their company culture:

- leaders can be powerful role models. While disclosure of mental health problems is up to an individual, if those in senior management talk openly about mental health and engage with events or discussions about mental health this can have an impact on perceptions of the workplace and its culture.

- it is important for employers to receive clear, consistent internal communications to improve perceptions of mental health and conversations about it.

- have informed and confident line managers. While the project found that many line managers are well meaning they were unsure how to have supportive conversations about mental health, and many mental health resources available to them were either far too sparse or lengthy.

This work led to the creation of the Let’s Chat tool, available online for free, which includes tips to help supervisors and line managers have open and honest conversations about staff mental health problems. As well as laying out the importance of confidentiality, regular communication and open-mindedness, the guide also consists of hypothetical scenarios for best practice in having such conversations in various scenarios. 

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