Solving the growing mental health crisis

By Dr Zain Sikafi, CA Today

19 June 2010

Dr Zain Sikafi is CEO and co-founder of Mynurva, a Healthtech start-up which aims to make world-class behavioural health accessible to everyone in the UK.

The UK is facing a mental health crisis that is threatening to spiral out of control. As a practising GP, I know first-hand the challenges faced by doctors and NHS staff when it comes to treating people suffering from symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Moreover, the negative stigma surrounding mental ill health means that many people are choosing not to seek professional help.

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week last month, at Mynurva we wanted to uncover just how significant the issue of mental ill health is in the workplace. We conducted a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 adults in the UK to discover just how many people are struggling with poor mental health, and the support structures available to them.

The results were startling. According to our research, almost a third (32%) of full-time employees have suffered from mental health problems in the workplace. This begs the questions – what are businesses doing wrong, and how can they better support the wellbeing needs of their employees?

Of those who have suffered (or are suffering) from poor mental health in the workplace, we found that more than half (54%) were not aware of any formal support structures in place that they could access for help.

At the same time, there is a sense that inflexible working schedules and workplace demands impede many of those who recognise that they have a mental health problem. Indeed, two in five sufferers admitted that they have missed one or more scheduled mental health related medical appointments because of work commitments.

While there is no silver bullet to tackling the issue of mental ill health in the workplace, any solutions need to start by first addressing the underlying causes standing in the way of workers seeking help in the first place.

To begin with, I would encourage companies to divert time and resources towards promoting an open and transparent workplace; indeed, we cannot solve the growing mental health crisis without shifting perceptions about mental ill health.

At the same time, companies must ensure that employees can access support if none is available within the organisation itself. After all, finding the time to see a qualified healthcare professional can be difficult for full-time workers, especially with the majority of practitioners and therapists working the traditional office hours of nine to five.

Our research found that two-thirds of people do not believe that GPs have the time and training to effectively diagnose and recommend treatment for patients with mental health problems. So, while the pressure on the NHS continues to mount, we must ensure that workers are utilising alternative sources of support to get the professional help they need.

Promoting a climate of flexibility, whereby employees are not afraid to take time off work to seek support from their GP or a therapist, is naturally the ideal solution. Alternatively, there are a number of creative ways that workers can get the help they need outside traditional working hours. A healthtech app like Mynurva, for instance, an online and live video counselling service which provides 24/7 access to trained professionals, ensures that sufferers can get confidential, accessible and flexible support that fits around their workplace commitments.

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