Towards Change: How Did Mental Health Awareness Evolve Over The Years?

6 Oct ‘22
2 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Reviewed by psychologist Emma White

During the past decade, mental health has undergone a number of significant changes. After years of prejudices and misrepresentation, the stigma is finally decreasing and a wide range of mental health support services are now more accessible than ever.


Within the workplace, mental health awareness has become a major topic of interest. Many companies are investing in mental health programs to improve employee well-being and commit to creating an open environment where each individual feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.


In recognition of Mental Health Day, we decided to explore how the discourse around mental health has changed and how this amplified awareness keeps developing over time.



Then and now 


As recently as ten years ago, talking about mental health was considered a social taboo. Admitting potential struggles proved difficult for many due to the stereotypes surrounding the topic.


The Stigma Shout Survey launched in 2007 by the Time to Change campaign with the goal of ending discrimination revealed that 9 in 10 people with mental health problems had experienced discrimination. Around those years, out of nearly 4,000 people across Britain, almost 30% said they would find it difficult to admit publicly to having a mental illness. 


“Many clients say that the stigma around mental health contributes to their feelings of shame around feeling mentally unwell, ultimately holding them back from reaching out for help.” explains psychologist Emma White.



Luckily, things are changing. Data shows that between 2008 and 2016, people with mental health problems were less likely to report having experienced discrimination in the past 12 months, while the average amount of discrimination fell from 42% to 28% in the workplace or other social contexts. The latest data from 2021 saw a further 2.9% improvement amongst the adult population, which corresponds to an additional 5.3 million people with improved attitudes towards mental health since Time to Change began.


Overall, the conversation around mental health has taken enormous steps in the right direction during the last ten years. In today’s world, ‘healthy’ means more than just being free of illness; it encompasses mental and physical health. As such, investing in mental well-being is now widely recognized as crucial to an individual’s happiness. 



On-going process


After the pandemic, people’s expectations for seeking and receiving mental support changed even further. The attitude around mental health awareness is constantly evolving and as a result, more people are advocating for more open cultures and prioritising a healthy work-life balance. 


This vision shift has also highlighted the need for change in the workplace, an area where people spend a great deal of time. “Taking care of your mental health is increasingly being viewed as being productive, you can’t be productive at work without taking care of yourself “, says Emma. 


The report from the Health and Safety Executive shows that more than 800,000 employees in the UK experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020-21 and indicated poor mental health conditions as one of the UK’s top reasons for sickness absence days. 


According to the latest Deloitte’s Mental Health Report, the annual cost to UK employers of poor mental health from absenteeism, presenteeism and labour turnover increased by 25%. These statistics cannot be ignored. Therefore, an increasing number of organisations are investing in more and better resources to support their employee’s mental well-being.


Leadership roles 


Although this new perspective made the conversation about mental health more acceptable and reduced the often unfair prejudices surrounding mental challenges, it seems that many people still consider mental health at work a taboo. 


A poll conducted by BHSF of more than 2,000 UK employees showed that the majority feels uncomfortable discussing personal issues at work and only 41% would raise mental health concerns with their manager. These results underline how mental health is still a difficult subject to discuss within organisations and lead to calls for better manager training.


According to the CIPD’s annual survey exploring health, well-being, and absence in UK workplaces, the ‘management style’ is one of the main causes of work-related stress. Leaders need to be trained with the people skills to support their staff and be able to respond empathetically to identify and implement adequate support. 


Managers play an important role by leading as an example in fostering positive attitudes and modeling positive behaviours. Regular conversations with the team, approachability and a good dose of human kindness send a strong message to employees as well as the wider community that mental health is a real priority for everyone in the organisation.



Step Forward


Within this scenario, HR professionals act as a bridge between staff and managers, helping the latter to effectively manage employees who are experiencing mental challenges at work. 


As an HR professional, it is crucial to ensure that employees feel comfortable in their place of work. In this article, we listed four steps you can take to normalise discussions about mental health and support both the employees and the leadership team. 



Open conversations to reduce the stigma 


Despite the UK making huge progress in recent years, talking openly about mental health at work can still be challenging. Open and inclusive conversations are essential to keep reducing the stigma and allow employees to feel more comfortable opening up when struggling. 


Regularly check in with employees to see how they’re doing and create space to listen and engage with them by asking questions and raising issues, not necessarily work-related. It is through consistent communication and active listening that real changes can be made.  



Create opportunities for training 


Preventative care and early intervention can help minimise mental health struggles, so it is fundamental that managers are able to recognise potential warning signs. To this aim, managers must receive the training they need to support the team’s mental health and deal appropriately with these delicate matters. As an HR professional, it is important to provide learning opportunities and help managers develop the required skills to understand potential mental health-related struggles within their team.



Promote work-life balance 


Make sure your team adopts healthy working habits, such as working sensible hours, eating healthy, attending mindfulness sessions or simply resting after busy periods. Making reasonable adjustments to facilitate the employees’ well-being is another way to help employees reach their full potential. 



Be proactive 


Companies should take proactive steps to create policies and practices that encourage a healthy work environment. By actively promoting positive well-being, you will raise more awareness about the importance of being mentally healthy. This could involve Inviting guest speakers to talk about their journey with mental health, encouraging leaders to open up about their experiences, or providing inspiring opportunities to work toward the same,  meaningful goal.


What comes next


Mental health awareness is a complex topic that touches on many aspects of life. Mental health awareness week, like every week, is an opportunity to highlight the importance of good mental health and reinforce the commitment towards creating a more open, supportive culture where everyone can thrive. 


Within the workplace, creating a healthy environment can be hugely beneficial. Employees with good mental health are more likely to perform well, have greater attendance levels and improve their engagement and productivity.  


“I think it is such a positive change to hear mental health being a priority in companies as well”, concludes Emma. “However, more needs to be done than just talk, we also need to act on what we say. If you consider mental health a priority, ask yourself: what can I really do to express that I find my (and others’) mental health important? Then, translate this to every area of your life, including the workplace.” 


OpenUp is committed to helping companies create healthy and rewarding working environments for their employees.