World Mental Health Day | Expert tips from Unmind and Koa Health for supporting your staff's mental wellbeing

Expert tips from Unmind and Koa Health for supporting your staff's mental wellbeing

Tuesday October 10 2023 marks World Mental Health Day.

Organised by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), the day seeks to raise awareness about mental health around the world. 

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2023 is 'Mental Health is a universal human right'.

Mental health can impact friends, family and colleagues meaning that for HR and employers, supporting staff will continue to be a top priority. In line with World Mental Health Day 2023, HR Grapevine caught up with Dr Oliver Harrison, CEO and co-founder of Koa Health, and Dr Nick Taylor, CEO of Unmind, to find out where HR’s attention should be focussed, the impact that poor mental health can have on staff and the business, and how to ensure that mental health services are being fully utilised by the workforce.

Q: What are some of the biggest issues currently affecting the mental wellbeing of employees? 

Dr Oliver, Koa Health:

It’s been a very challenging few years around the world - with recovery from the pandemic, war in Europe, major economic pressures, and the ongoing climate crisis. This has taken its toll on employees and employers alike. In this context, providing mental health support has become a critical need in all workplaces. Today, data show that mental health challenges affect a massive 59% of working adults worldwide. With the profound impact that this has on business performance, delivering effective support to every employee across the spectrum of need is a high priority in most organisations. 

Most health care systems are complex to navigate, lack options for those individuals without a formal clinical diagnosis, and have long waitlists for clinical care once there is a diagnosis. Besides, we know that more than half of people struggling with their mental health don’t want 1:1 sessions with a therapist, citing a preference for self-help and a lack of confidence in treatment as their reasons for not pursuing care. 

We believe that employers want a mental health solution that keeps employees as well as possible, and that this is what employees want, too. In looking for a solution, employers want scalable and effective prevention, open assessments, simple navigation, and accessible treatment for those that need it. 

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Dr Nick, Unmind:

One of the main drivers for poor mental wellbeing among employees that we’ve seen recently is the current cost of living crisis, which is driving a rise in mental health-related absences from work. 

We recently released a survey of renters and mortgage holders in the UK, which found that nearly half (49%) had taken time off work in the past six months due to stress caused by the financial impact of the housing crisis. 

For those employees who continue to come to work despite the stress caused by the cost of living crisis a third (33%) said the crisis is having a negative impact on their ability to focus at work.

Q: How does HR help solve these problems? 

Dr Oliver, Koa Health:

HR and business leaders are uniquely positioned to support their staff - after all, employees spend about one third of their lives at work. Organisations care about their workers, and many have invested in mental health. And yet nearly 70% of the workforce say they don’t use their existing benefits to their full value because the services offered are too time-consuming, confusing, or cumbersome.   

While the first step is undoubtedly raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health, it’s equally crucial that employers make it simple for people to understand where they are on their mental health journey and navigate to the right services for their needs. With a comprehensive approach to personalised, precision care across the full spectrum of mental health, Koa Health is committed to helping employers ensure every employee gets the right support at the right time, in the right way, whether they prefer to access evidence-based self-care, or need 1:1 therapy with a clinician. 

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Dr Nick, Unmind:

HR needs to take a systematic approach to supporting mental health at work. This means offering the full spectrum of care, from proactive education to therapy, as well as building a culture that's conducive to positive employee wellbeing, including minimising psychosocial risks, training managers, and using data to inform tailored interventions.

Crucially, your mental health support needs to be scientifically rigorous: just 5% of mental health apps are backed by credible science, which means many well-meaning strategies fall at the first hurdle. So make sure to select evidence-based approaches and continuously evaluate your strategy to ensure it meets the needs of your workforce. 

Q: What would your message be to firms that aren't adequately signposting to their wellbeing offerings? 

Dr Oliver, Koa Health:

Signposting has one primary objective: Getting people to the mental health support they need in a timely fashion. An obstacle organisations typically encounter in achieving this is getting their employees to a place where they’re open to using mental health care services - even at workplaces with a culture that prioritises mental health. Simple, open assessments help people understand their needs. Care navigation helps to guide workers to the best resources for them at this time. Making care options flexible encourages a range of people to seek the care they need when they need it.  

Dr Nick, Unmind:

Employers can play a key role in protecting their workforce from the effects of mental ill-health. Proactive, workplace-level guidance – such as access to psychological support and financial advice – can reduce the impact of stress on our health. 

But the key is not only having these offerings but ensuring your employees know about them, and feel empowered to use them. Consider using internal campaigns to raise awareness of your offering. Mobilise a network of wellbeing champions as they – like skilled managers – can help cascade this knowledge across the organisation and offer help on the ground. Business leaders have everything to gain: a happier, more engaged workforce, which will in turn boost productivity and ultimately the bottom line.

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