Why should employers be talking about mental health? Vanessa Sallows, benefits & governance director, Legal & General Group Protection explains the role they can play


When it comes to mental health issues in the UK, many people still suffer in silence. Our recent research revealed that fewer than four in ten (39%) people suffering with depression feel that they can speak to their partner about their condition. In addition, only 30% of those dealing with unacceptably high levels of pressure feel comfortable talking to a friend about the problem. These figures are certainly worrying, yet compared with the percentage of people who would speak to their employer about mental health issues, these numbers look surprisingly high.

The hidden struggle

When asked if they would feel comfortable speaking about their mental health with a manager or superior, only 4% of employees who have experienced depression and 5% who have experienced anxiety agreed.

This will come as a surprise to many employers, not least because over three-quarters (78%) of the managing directors and HR managers we surveyed were confident that their employees would feel comfortable talking about mental health issues with a company representative.

It’s an important area to get right. Whether employees want to talk about these issues or not, most would like to have a workplace where they can speak openly about mental illness if they choose to – and employers no doubt want the same. However, there is clearly more work to be done in this area.

Our new campaign

That’s why we have launched a campaign which uses sport and teamwork to raise awareness, provide education, and encourage action around reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace. Our campaign will feature sports personalities who are also mental health advocates in order to let employers and employees know that talking about mental health is “not a red card offence”.

The campaign microsite will feature short films which highlight the importance of creating an environment in the workplace that encourages open discussion and understanding about mental health, as well as providing expert resources for employees and employers.

It is our hope that through this campaign, with input from the charity Mind and others, we can begin to eliminate the stigma attached to mental health issues and encourage more awareness and discussion about them.

It is vital that employers do all they can to reassure employees that it is not only acceptable to talk about mental illness, but that it is actively encouraged and essential. Once employees do feel comfortable enough to speak out about their mental health issues, there also needs to be a high-quality health and wellbeing strategy in place to provide appropriate support and help. For instance, we recently launched our Mental Health First Aiders programme and will be introducing computer-based training for line managers – a vital part of the commitment to our staff.

If any remaining barriers are overcome, and a culture of openness is instilled within workplaces across the UK, we can begin to make strides into dismantling the stigma around mental health and encourage more people to discuss how these issues are affecting them.