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Business group urges local firms to improve mental health support for staff

A leading business representation organisation in our area, East Midlands Chamber has signed a commitment to support changing attitudes towards mental health in the workplace.

Chief Executive Scott Knowles signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge yesterday in front of staff and guests at an event at the Chamber’s office in Chesterfield.

Speaking before signing for the Chamber, Scott said: “The Chamber’s pledge is about how we think about and act when it comes to mental health and making sure people feel supported in the workplace.

“It is estimated that one-in-four workers are affected by anxiety, depression and stress. The average cost of mental health to business is over £1,000 per employee each year and most affected employees will give a different reason for any resulting absence.

“Looking after mental health is clearly very important and offering the right support leads to a more positive workforce. Nobody is immune from mental health challenges and nobody should be afraid to articulate their concerns.”

Time To Change is a social movement now involving thousands of people throughout England and Wales. It is led by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

The commitment signed by Scott says: “We pledge to change the way we think and act about mental health at work.”

Three guest speakers – Amy Hallam, Director at BRM Solicitors, Ruth Bunn, Managing Director at Intrinsic OT and Anna Kelynack-Boddy, Founder of Yogic Frog, of Derby, witnessed Scott signing the Time To Change pledge.

Amy said: “There was a time when the role of an employment solicitor was to advise a company on how to get rid of someone suffering mental health issues but that’s not the best way to manage things because you lose a member of staff and then have all the cost and inconvenience of having to recruit a replacement.

“It’s something we are quite passionate about nowadays and we do things differently.  We like to teach staff about recognising their own mental health issues and that of colleagues, recognising, for example, presenteeism, where a person turns up for work physically but doesn’t do very much.

“If a person is off sick, keep them involved in the business, invite them to come in to team meetings even if they go home straight afterwards. We’ve found that helps to accelerate their return to work.”

Ruth, who has worked in mental health in the NHS, said she was shocked when she heard Prince Harry had admitted receiving help with mental health issues to cope with the death of his mother.

“It was that word ‘admitted’ that I felt most strongly about, as though help for mental health issues was a dirty secret being dragged out, that it is something we should suffer in silence with a typically British stoic attitude and just get on with it.

“In hospital, when we saw people for whom everything had just got too much, we would talk openly about mental health and just talking about it lifted people up.”

She explained how everybody has a physical health scale and a mental health scale and the only difference was that physical ailments could be seen while mental illness was invisible.

After the signing, Anna, who has worked for big companies including Rolls-Royce and Walgreen Boots and now lists Rolls-Royce among her clients, explained how life should be viewed as a glass ball that you can’t afford to drop because it would shatter.

But she said there was no reason to juggle rubber balls – her description of immediate but perhaps unachieved goals - that can be allowed to fall to the floor without risk.

She then led a short, desk-based yoga session and advised people to take just ten minutes during the day to focus on one thing not related to work. “This has been proved to increase productivity by 80%,” she said.

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