While many employers have taken the important step of putting mental health support systems in place, writes Harry Bliss, our data has shown a reluctance among employees to engage with them.

In recent years, both employees and people managers have faced increasingly difficult and unpredictable challenges. Inevitably, this has taken its toll on the mental wellbeing of our workforce.

The Workplace Health Report: 2022 by Champion Health showed that stress, anxiety and depression are all too common among our professionals.

Saving lives

In 2018, my friend and mentor took his own life following a short bout of stress. It is his legacy that has driven Champion Health to where it is today, and suicide prevention will always be close to the heart of the business.

Our data shows that around 1 in 12 employees are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm. There’s no doubt these are alarming figures

Employers clearly have a vital role to play in preventing suicide, but how can we break down those barriers and get these people the support they need when they need it?

In my experience, line managers have a crucial role to play in this. They are often the first point of contact for struggling team members, so ensure they are prepared and ready to handle these situations.

For instance, provide them with the knowledge they need to support struggling employees, such as a directory of local mental health support services that they can signpost to.

They should also have a clear process to follow if they encounter an employee who may be at risk of suicide.

Low mood and anxiety has increased 

We found that nearly 60 percent of employees feel anxious – and just over half are experiencing low mood. What’s more, two thirds of professionals are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, and over 1 in 5 employees report that their mental wellbeing is affecting their productivity in work.

These findings present a significant challenge for our organisations from a moral and business perspective – and it’s imperative that we continue to support our people.

However, the data from our report also suggests that employees are not accessing the support they need, either from internal wellbeing offerings or external services.

Without first addressing that underlying issue, initiatives to improve employee wellbeing are destined to fail.

In this article, I’m going to outline three key findings that highlight the need for organisations to break down the barriers to seeking mental health support – and what they can do about it now.

Providing the right help at the right time

Shockingly, less than 1 in 10 employees are currently seeking support for their mental health, despite over half experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Our data also highlights the well-documented trend of male employees being reluctant to reach out for mental health support, even when they’re struggling. Over three quarters of employees currently seeking support for their mental health are female.

To overcome these challenges, organisations should focus on normalising the conversation surrounding mental health in the workplace, particularly for male employees.

Encouraging leaders, particularly male leaders, to share their experiences of mental health with their teams is a particularly powerful way of doing this.

You should also discuss employee mental health during 1:1s as some colleagues will be more likely to disclose any struggles they are having in a more private environment.

Accessibility and the role of D&I

Employees will not engage with support if it’s not relevant to them, and our findings place a spotlight on the relationship between employee wellbeing and diversity and inclusion (D&I).

The pandemic has impacted everyone’s mental health, but not everyone has been affected equally. For instance, our data found that young employees are struggling, with rates of depression and anxiety highest among those aged 25-34. Similarly, female employees were more likely than male employees to experience poor mental health.

To support every employee effectively, leadership must resist implementing ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to wellbeing challenges and instead address these demographic differences within organisations.

So, before you invest in a new initiative, or implement a new strategy, take stock of the specific challenges facing your people.

Collect this information by running pulse surveys or discussion groups with your employees or asking for their opinions during 1:1 meetings.

Once you’ve recognised and understood the unique pressures faced by your people, you can begin to address them in your wellbeing initiatives.

Building on the foundation of mental health support

Our data is yet more evidence that there are widespread challenges among the mental health of our professionals.

And while it’s fantastic to see organisations taking the initiative, and providing mental health support, they must first stop and address the fundamental challenge of why professionals are not accessing it.

By addressing this challenge, and removing those barriers to support, we can ensure our employees get the support they need to thrive both inside and outside the workplace.

Harry Bliss is the CEO and co-founder of Champion Health