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Mental Health is Something to Shout About

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INFLUENCER: Claire Gillis, international CEO of WPP Health Practice, on why we must turn up the volume to support mental well-being at work

Mental Health is Something to Shout About
A significant royal birth has slipped quietly under the radar, which is a shame given how important it is to everyone. Prince William’s UK launch of ‘Shout’, a 24/7 text messaging service for people experiencing mental health problems. It’s a great idea. I’m hoping this will herald the start of initiatives to shift old attitudes towards mental health. It’s not so long ago that every celebrity invited to support Prince William’s Heads Together initiative refused – because they ‘didn’t want to be associated with mental illness’. Fortunately that attitude is starting to change. This year, one in four of us will experience mental health issues; if it’s not you, it could be someone you know and most probably the person you least expected. Burying our heads in the sand is no longer an option; we must do more to support mental well-being.
 
Mental illness is a global epidemic. More than 300 million people suffer from depression, with the World Health Organization (WHO) predicting that mental health problems will be the leading cause of global death by 2030. Currently, untreated mental illness accounts for 13% of the global burden of disease. The upward trend has triggered an increase in suicide rates, with one in five contemplating taking their own life at some point. In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45
 
Severe mental illness has been rising in the UK since the early 1990s, with commentators claiming that 21st Century culture is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health. Those pressures inevitably extend into the workplace, where most of us spend around a third of our lives. In America, where mental health accounts for 62% of all missed work days, the associated loss of productivity costs the US economy an estimated $1 trillion every year. In Britain, 32% of workers have suffered mental health problems at work, costing employers 91 million workdays and the UK economy £94 billion. It’s no surprise that workplace well-being has become a strategic priority for responsible businesses.
 
So what can we do to address it? Firstly, we must shake off the stigma of mental health and recognise a genuine health crisis. Maintaining the old stereotype of ‘suffering in silence’ will only exacerbate the situation. Without question, communication – in every sense – is part of the solution. Whilst modern innovation like social media is commonly cited as a negative influence on mental well-being, the creative use of technology will be key to building communities and services that can offer vital support and guidance. A recent report from the Mental Health Network – drawing on research from Australia and the US – highlights a need to invest in digital innovation to ensure more people have access to information, treatment and advice.
 
On its own, communications won’t solve the problem of mental health. But, as initiatives like ‘Shout’ show, open and trusted dialogue – supported by reliable information – is often a crucial first step. The creative industries can play a leading role in raising awareness of mental health and developing communications and services to support it.
 
Alongside this, employers must go beyond lip service to develop cultures, programmes and resources that genuinely support workplace well-being. It’s a moral obligation that should take precedence over productivity and profits. However, it’s not easy. There are no evidence-based approaches for employers to adopt and no clear ways of measuring their effectiveness. At WPP Health, we’re trying to change that.
 
We know that good communications, based on an understanding of the science of decision-making, can have a significant influence on human behaviour. So we’ve turned our UK HQ into a ‘living laboratory’ where, through our everyday work, we can develop and test communications (with our own teams) to translate public health recommendations into wellness behaviours. These efforts, which include initiatives to promote mindfulness and psychological health, are creating a real-world evidence to support mental well-being in the workplace.
 
Fundamentally, we will only win the fight against mental illness if we front up to it, recognise it’s there and create environments where people feel comfortable to share their concerns. If we’re going to normalise the conversation around mental health, communications will be key.
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VMLY&Rx, Fri, 17 May 2019 11:11:06 GMT