Why Mental Health Awareness Week Matters

by Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

Mental Health Awareness Week is an increasingly notable week in the year, running from 13th to 19th May in 2019. Started by the Mental Health Foundation in 2001, it is a pinnacle annual week for businesses, schools, and communities to normalise opening dialogues and reducing stigma around the subject of mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation has been running for over 70 years, researching mental health in several areas of life to influence key legislative policy decisions on mental health for the benefit of the general public.

Each annual Mental Health Awareness Week has a theme, and in past years topics such stress, relationships, loneliness, sleep, alcohol and friendship have all been covered; this year, the theme being campaigned is body image. The Mental Health Foundation reported that: ‘one in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.’

They continue: ‘last year we found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.’ This is even to the extent that ‘one in eight (13%) adults’ have ‘experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image’. This widespread negative impact on individuals’ self-esteem can affect all areas of life, and ‘a recent survey showed that 20% of people had gone to work while experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings’.

This is a widespread problem, made increasingly worse by the unrealistic beauty standards in the media, including social media. This has become particularly prominent in recent years with the increased normalisation in controversial photo-editing apps such as Facetune. To help combat this, a wave of body and life positive activists such as Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial and @i_weigh) and Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda) created hugely successful Instagram accounts to promote being kind and accepting of oneself, and encouraged their followers to value themselves beyond their physical appearance. With almost four million followers between these three accounts alone, they have begun to break through societal norms and have opened dialogues and safe spaces online for people to talk about their mental health and acceptance of their bodies.

However, it is also vital that workplaces are environments where employees will not have their mental health negatively affected or be at risk of burnout. Taking proactive steps to increase mental wellbeing in the workplace not only benefits the employee’s health and wellbeing, but benefits the employer too. According to the Mental Health Foundation: ‘addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%’. This has a significant effect on higher profits and lower staff turnover rates, and as a result many companies are now taking active steps to improve the health and wellbeing of their employees for a happier, healthier, more productive staff.

According to the annual survey conducted by mental health charity Mind, 62% of people surveyed said that they are consulted on what they feel would promote staff wellbeing at work, and 62% felt that positive changes had been implemented as a result of feedback. This shows progress in humanising the workplace and making each individual employee feel valued and that their voice, and by extension their mental wellbeing, matters.

They continue: ‘mental health problems are all too common in the workplace and it is the leading cause of sickness absence. A staggering 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year’.

They state: ‘there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive’, as staff feel more energised and motivated in their roles, and are less likely to take sick leave for stress and exhaustion. They report that the estimated cost to the economy in the UK alone from our current mental health crisis is ‘over £100 billion each year’.

Evidently, we still have a long way to go in improving the mental wellbeing and body image of the general public, and more workplaces need to progress towards making their staff feel valued in regards to their mental wellbeing. If you would like more information on increasing employee wellness and improving internal relationships within your company, our Internal Communications Conference happening in September, and our new Employee Wellness Conference launching in March 2020, could both provide useful insight into this area, and a platform for sharing innovative ideas with a wealth of brands and organisations.