Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

14th May 2021


Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, we read several posts on various social media platforms and articles, the results of which have been humbling and sobering.  From individuals sharing their stories about losing loved ones to known and unknown mental health issues to the far-reaching statistics of mental health, it is evident that mental health needs to be championed.

It is important to discuss mental health awareness in the context of the workplace because work is where, for most of us, we spend the majority of our time.  It follows that work can have a huge impact on our mental health and as an organisation, we can improve our workforce’s mental health. 

For many there is a stigma surrounding mental health and so it can be very difficult to talk about.  From the individual’s perspective, it can be hard to open up, where others may find they are unsure on how to approach the conversation. However, it is evident from the statistics that you are not alone and neither is your organisation. 

The Health & Safety Executive’s annual statistics for 2019/20 were that 17.9 million days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.  The main contributors to work-related stress are not restricted to a single employer or industry, they are:-

  • workloads;
  • lack of support; and
  • changes in the workplace.

So, if it affects everyone and every organisation, let’s get talking about this subject. 


COVID-19 and mental health

In some ways, COVID-19 has had a detrimental effect on people’s mental health but in others it has been a catalyst for the discussion around mental health 

On one hand, the Office for National Statistics reported that depression in adults doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of the contributing factors being specifically about COVID-19, for example:-

  • the fear of infection;
  • the loss of loved ones; and/or
  • isolation.

However, many are also work related, such as:-

  • new working environments;
  • the ‘always on’ culture (having to always be available) with some surveys indicating that 30% of workers were logging more unpaid hours than before because of the pandemic;
  • the blurring of work/life boundaries;
  • job security and related financial concerns; and/or
  • having to juggle work with caring responsibilities.

On the other hand, COVID-19 allowed many to reassess what was important to them and has opened the door in many organisations to discussing mental health and having a better understanding of how their workforce is doing.  It certainly has created more connectivity and many organisations have set up informal or formal chats with their workforce just to catch up.


What are other organisations doing about mental health in the workplace?

Rachel King, Group HR Director for the Camelot Group (the firm behind the National Lottery) has been tackling mental health for some time and introduced a mental health initiative. 

In 2019 they launched a ‘place to be you’ campaign, allowing employees to be themselves at work.  The idea being that if your workforce does not bring the whole of themselves to work, they cannot be their best self at work.  The Camelot Group also offered to train people as mental health first aiders which was received overwhelmingly positively. 

Part of the Camelot Group’s success is that it is driven not only by senior management and HR but also by the employees so it is not surprising to read that the Camelot Group’s culture engagement is at 92%.

The trade union, Prospect, is pushing for a ‘right to disconnect’ in an upcoming employment bill that initially was introduced in December 2019 but has been delayed because of the pandemic.  Opinium, on behalf of Prospect, surveyed 2,428 people and found that 66% would back such a policy, allowing a legal right to switch off.


How could this affect my organisation?

A recent survey by the recruitment firm, Robert Walters, found that 47% of 2,000 managers feared employees were at risk of burnout, following changes to working patterns with COVID.  When you factor this with the main contributors to mental health issues, linked to work and the fact that Mercer’s Global Talen Trend survey found that employee experience was the number one priority for HR leaders in 2020, it indicates that failure to consider how your organisation could help the mental health of your workforce would be a risk undertaken at your own peril.

There are a number of ways in which mental health could affect your organisation:-

  • There is a legal obligation on all organisations to comply with health and safety which includes a duty of care that covers mental health.  So far as reasonably practicable, your organisation should be ensuring that your workforce has a safe place to work.
  • The duty not to discriminate, this covers disabilities that comply with the requirements under the Equality Act 2010.  Discrimination can arise in a number of ways such as direct, indirect, discrimination arising from, harassment, victimisation and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Failure to comply could result in:-

  • criminal liabilities;
  • civil liabilities – including fines and claims against both organisation and potentially individuals; and/or
  • disqualification as a director.

The benefits of championing mental health therefore clearly outweigh the negatives.  By taking it seriously and tackling it, you will:-

  • create a competitive edge;
  • increase engagement;
  • create a better working environment which, in turn, should increase productivity; 
  • reduce the risk of claims; and
  • retain and attract talent.


What could our organisation be doing?

A recent article about lawyer’s mental health arising from specific factors in this area of work, the closing sentiment was applicable everywhere:

instead of having to keep jumping in the water to save people from downing, help them avoid falling into the water in the first place

The message taken away from this is that prevention is better than cure which seems particularly relevant, given the current pandemic.

We appreciate, of course, that mental health is not something that an organisation can wave a magic wand over and fix overnight.  Neither is it a particularly easy subject, not least because of the various factors that give rise to mental health issues and the various types of mental health issues but also because everyone’s mental health journey is different.

We have set out below a few suggestions but it may also be worth looking at the Mental Health Foundation’s website which discusses mental health awareness week.  The theme of this year is nature, something many of us have connected or re-connected with as our only means of going outside during the pandemic.  The link to the website can be found below but the website includes:- 

  • top tips for connecting with nature; and
  • research on nature and how this benefits our mental health.

Some of the other suggestions for your organisation include:-

  • Encouraging your workforce to take breaks, annual leave and switch off.
  • Training of mental health first aiders or champions.
  • Opening a dialogue with your workforce.  Their journey and experiences will vary drastically.  Some may wish to stay connected and have informal ‘catch ups’ to mimic the office coffee run but others may not.
  • Conduct suitable risk assessments to include mental health and update these when appropriate.
  • Consider implementing a mental health policy and/or strategy.  This could identify the causes of stress and how to deal with them as well as how to deal with situations when someone is suffering from mental health.  Our top tip for this would be to ensure that you do this with staff.  Help them buy into it rather than see it just as another initiative.
  • Consider whether you could provide access to mental health specialists, counsellors or other employment assistance programmes and, make sure these are transparent to your workforce to reach out to them if they are required.
  • Talk to your staff about their worries, concerns and, if they want to, their own mental health.  Ensure that this is only done in a safe environment and that if managers and HR need to know, that this is done in a respectful manner and complies with data protection principles.
  • Provide guidance and training for your managers and HR who will be the frontline of dealing with mental health issues.
  • Don't forget to support the supporters, the managers and HR who are helping others and may, in turn, struggle with their own mental health. 
  • Ensure your technology is both a helpful tool in creating connectivity but does not become an enabler of the ‘always on’ culture which doesn’t stop people from disconnecting from work.
  • Keep a paper trail of your proactive and reactive steps.


Get in touch

If you would like to discuss any employment issues arising from this article, whether that is considering your policies, allegations of failure to comply with your duty of care or discrimination, or just having a chat, please do not hesitate to speak to a member of the employment team on 01325 466794 and ask for Anthony Willis or Alexander Millward.  Alternatively email: or

Alexander Millward

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