There is little doubt that, as a society, our attitude towards mental illness has improved significantly in recent years. The support on offer to those suffering from mental health issues has increased dramatically, while stigma and discrimination continue to plummet. But there is still much to be done.
As time has moved on, our understanding and compassion towards promoting and maintaining mental health within the workplace has somewhat improved, but also comprehending there is still much to be done. In this sense, both support and training are worthwhile in their own right, but also the importance of what is a meaningful life associated with a productive one.
As a society, we are now far more understanding and accepting of mental illness. Our outlook towards people with mental health problems has improved, while a record number of people in England admit they would now be willing to live, work or have a relationship with someone who has experienced such a problem.
As our comprehension improves to what it means to possess good mental health, so do our relations with significant others, both in the work place and at home.
Despite this, it is worth noting that the mental well-being of healthcare professionals in the UK remains at risk. With increasing pressure being placed on the healthcare industry, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals face a daily struggle to meet the ever-increasing demands of their roles.
Yes, our attitudes towards mental health may have changed, but there is still a long way to go.
How do we feel about mental illness?
Our outlook towards mental health is certainly improving. Society, in general, is becoming far better equipped and more open to discussing mental health issues than ever before. More people are likely to know someone who suffers from a mental illness. This has resulted in a decrease in stigma and increased levels of openness and acceptance surrounding mental health.
There are clear and positive signs that the larger society is far more tolerant of mental health issues and open-mindedness with understanding on the rise.
However, the ways with which people are coping with mental health problems is creating cause for concern. The number of cases of self-injury and suicidal thoughts or ideation is increasing despite the number of mental health support services available.
Mental health in the workplace
Despite the colossal strides we have taken towards eradicating mental health discrimination in society, it seems mental illness is still considered a taboo subject. This is a concerning fact given that, according to the mental health charity Mind, around one in four people in the UK experience mental illness each year.
Many find the idea hard-to-discuss, particularly in the workplace. This is especially concerning given that nearly half of all long-term absences from work are down to mental health issues. People who have been out of work as a result of mental illness are often worried about going back. Common fears include returning to work too soon and becoming unwell again and facing discrimination or bullying upon their return. Indeed, a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists warns: "Many people with mental health problems fear that, no matter how good a recovery they have made, their symptoms will be made worse by going back to work."
If handled properly, a return to work after mental illness could actually have a hugely beneficial effect. Paid employment can lend people a sense of purpose, increase the size of their social circle, and decrease the amount of time they spend alone. These factors can reduce feelings of loneliness that could prompt further mental health problems.
It should also be pointed out that it's in the best interests of employers to address – and, if necessary, enhance – their approach to mental illness. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, mental health costs the UK economy £70 billion a year, equivalent to 4.5 per cent of GDP.
Furthermore, issues surrounding mental health are estimated to cost employers an annual total of £26 billion, or an average of £1,035 per employee. Put simply, we can't afford not to improve our attitude toward mental health.
The mental health of doctors
According to findings by the British Medical Association (BMA), around 40 per cent of doctors surveyed reported experiencing a mental health disorder. Depression, anxiety, burnout and stress, were amongst the most common complaints, with factors such as work and training being affected.
The report even revealed that an alarming 80 per cent of doctors were at risk of burnout with junior physicians most at risk. What’s more, less than half of the doctors quizzed said they had been offered mental health support.
These findings are deeply worrying, especially considering the United Kingdom’s ageing population rellies so heavily on healthcare.
The mental health of nurses
As with doctors, nurses are also susceptible to the negative effects of mental health. Factors that accompany the roles – such as long hours and stress - can certainly take their toll on the mental well-being of any nurse.
Calls have been made in the past for healthcare managers to introduce systems for assessing and monitoring the mental well-being of nurses so that risks caused by working conditions can be quickly addressed. Such ideas include regular attitude surveys and further background about absence rates and staff turnover.
So what mental health support services are available for doctors and nurses?
Thankfully, mental health support services are available for doctors and nurses in the UK. Specialist services are provided by organisations like the Doctors’ Support Network (DSN), the BMA and the Royal College of Nurses (RCN). These are accessible and provide much-needed help and supportive resources to doctors and nurses who require a helping hand when it comes to improving their mental health.
As well as delivering support, these organisations aim to improve awareness around mental health and address the stigma around accessing mental health support. They also offer online mental health support and champion positive mental health in the workplace.
Of course, the support on offer doesn’t necessarily have to come from a specialist source. Mental health support is available in the form of organisations such as Mind, the Samaritans, Time to Change and Turning Point, whilst the NHS also offers support to those in need - including the Practitioner Health
Programme, a confidential service for doctors suffering from mental health issues.
How can we improve our outlook and view towards and to mental health?
It's extremely positive to see the improvements we've made as a society when it comes to supporting and understanding mental health. But it's also clear that there are ways in which stigma is still attached to mental illness.
Employment is the biggest area in which our approach towards mental illness and health still needs to improve. For instance, a significant proportion of people have concerns about discussing mental illness in a working environment. While some people would feel comfortable talking to their employer about their mental illness, a greater proportion may feel uncomfortable. This is an attitude that still needs addressing in modern society.
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