By Elizabeth Hampson, Director, Monitor Deloitte
Wednesday 10th October was World Mental Health Day 2018, and coincidentally last week I presented the findings from our work in support of the independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer ‘Thriving at Work’.1 Our report Mental Health and Wellbeing in Employment: A supporting study for the Independent Review explored the cost of poor mental health and the return on investment for employers from mental health interventions in the workplace, and showcased good practice examples from other countries.2 My presentation, in conjunction with Mind, the mental health charity whose CEO is Paul Farmer, was to senior executives from all Virgin companies at one of the Branson homes in Oxfordshire.
I have presented the findings from this work many times now, almost every month since the report was published a year ago. When I do so I always feel very proud of our role in supporting the rise of awareness around Mental Health in UK society and the case for employer investment. My presentations focus on showcasing the high level findings of our work. We found that the annual cost of poor mental health to UK businesses is £32 - 43 billion each year, approximately 2 per cent of GDP, and the return on investment is £4.20 for every £1 invested in employee mental health.3 In presenting these high-level findings, I try to bring to life the case for investment for those who are not already bought in to its importance. However, at this event, despite the lovely Cotswold surroundings, my attention was taken by two more specific statistics coming from my co-presenters on the relationship between debt and mental health, and the link with suicide in the UK.
On the relationship with debt, some two-thirds of employees who are struggling financially report at least one sign of poor mental health that could affect their ability to function at work.4 The signs include loss of sleep, poor concentration and reduced motivation. Five per cent of employees say they are struggling to make ends meet. This means that nearly one million people in the workforce could be suffering from poor mental health due to financial difficulties. As the awareness on employee mental health rises, this is something employers are not yet giving sufficient priority to.
On the link with suicide, every two hours a man takes his life in the UK; that’s 12 male suicides a day and 84 male suicides a week.5 I already knew that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and that it has a devastating impact on friends and family. Indeed, sadly I know the impact and stigma from suicide first-hand, as I lost a cousin to suicide three years ago. However, the statistic that every two hours a man commits suicide in the UK really brought home the scale of the issue and the number of families in the UK suffering right now.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), the charity that works to prevent male suicides, was initially a Department of Health pilot project launched late in 1997 and has been raising awareness of the issue of male suicide for many years now. In March this year the #Project84 campaigned was created by working with 84 bereaved families. The campaign highlights that 84 men each week take their life in the UK, by making statues of 84 men that had died through suicide and placing them on the top of a London building.6 If you would like to see the powerful video for the campaign the link is here.
The UK is by no means alone in the problem of suicide. The WHO details the average standardised suicide rates per 100,000 population, and the UK is 78th on the list, with a 70 per cent lower rate of suicide than Lithuania and Russia, who top the list (see Figure 1).7 Globally, approximately 800,000 people die each year due to suicide, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
Figure 1. Age-standardized suicide rates (per 100 000 population), both sexes, 2016
Source: World Health Organization, 2018
The main message coming from all the speakers at the event on Tuesday, and the same message that also came from our systematic review of the mental health and employer research, was the positive impact education and raising awareness can have at a personal, business and societal level. I also learned of a campaign in Australia called ‘R U OK?’ that is similar to the UK’s ‘time to talk’ campaign and aims to inspire and empower everyone to connect meaningfully with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.8
So this World Mental Health Day, please reach out to colleagues and friends and ask ‘R U OK?’, share what you do to keep yourself resilient and if you are able provide support to those you know are struggling.