January 15 2018 has been dubbed Blue Monday as it has been calculated to be the most depressing day of the year

Blue Monday typically falls on the third Monday of January and it is said that the weather, our bank balances and returning to work after the festive season all combine to create a feeling of melancholia on this day.

While the calculations may not be particularly scientific as it was a PR stunt to begin with, we can’t dismiss the fact that January can be one of the gloomiest months in the year. In fact, RedArc statistics show a 30% increase in mental health referrals every January.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc comments, “Every Monday can be a Blue Monday for someone who has mental health problems but employers can help that individual by providing the right support at the right time. That professional support often needs to be external to the organisation in order for the individual to fully benefit. By selecting a group risk product, private medical insurance or an EAP that includes this benefit, will give staff automatic access and is a significant step in managing the workforce’s mental health.”

Blue Monday can serve as a positive reminder for employers to review how they support their staff with mental health issues throughout the year. The Health and Safety Executive reported that last year 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

Adrian Lewis says, “Every year, companies report a spike in levels of absenteeism at this time of year. Blue Monday may not be based on scientific fact, but it increases awareness of mental health issues, which can only be a good thing. It can encourage employers to think about how they can reduce absence levels by understanding why people are taking time off sick. They can then offer support where needed, which can help improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and save money in the long run.”

The Centre of Economic and Business Research suggests that workplace absence costs the UK economy £18bn in lost productivity, rising to £21bn in 2020 and £26bn in 2030. A rise in mental health issues is a major contributor to increased levels of absenteeism.

A Business in the Community report in 2017 revealed that 3 in 5 employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work and almost a third (31%) of the workforce has been formally diagnosed with mental health issues. The most common diagnosis was depression or general anxiety.

Two-thirds of employers have admitted to not utilising all the benefits of Group Risk products to support staff with mental health issues. Group risk not only supports those in times of need but also works as a preventative method, providing services such as access to GP services and health tracking apps.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD says: “The support available via group risks products is wide-ranging, from employee assistance programmes and fast-track access to counselling through to support for staff affected by a colleague’s stress. It can also include mental health first-aid training for managers to spot the signs of mental ill health and stress so they can be more effective in signposting staff to help.”

Both pre-emptive and responsive support is available at no additional cost and can be used on a daily basis if needed, even if a claim is never made.

So what steps can employers take to support their employees? RedArc have simple solutions to guide employees towards more positive mental health that will not only benefit them but also promote improved productivity across the workforce:

  1. The easiest step, and the one with least associated costs, is to ask employees how they are feeling and really take time to listen to the answers.
  2. Review your company’s wellbeing policies and procedures - do your employees have access to mental health support, does support start early enough and last long enough?
  3. Do employees know how to access the mental support you offer and do you constantly remind them of its availability? Mental health support often falls on deaf ears until it is needed, so regular communication is essential.
  4. Utilise any support services that are available to the employer as well as the employee (via insurances or EAPs) – they may give the organisation some direction in introducing initiatives such as discounted gym memberships, fitness challenges, app & tech as well as providing fresh fruit: there is a strong link between physical health and good mental wellbeing.
  5. Consider the middle (wo)man too: line managers and colleagues may also need support in dealing with members of staff who are struggling with mental health conditions.