The 10 September 2019 marked ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’. Public attitudes towards mental health has significantly improved; it is heartening to hear so many friends and colleagues speak more openly about their own mental health experiences. Whilst, as a society, we will continue to fight the stigma associated with mental health, it is time that we urge employers to follow suit, and do more to support employees during their mental health struggles.
Studies have found that those working in low-paid jobs, such as the construction industry, have a much higher risk of suicide, when compared to those employed in the highest paid occupation group. It would be a lazy analysis not to draw a correlation between the increase of precarious work and the lack of employment opportunities through de-industrialisation on the one hand, and the increase in mental health issues on the other. They are deeply intertwined. There are a number of ways in which work can exacerbate a person’s poor mental health, such as temporary or zero-hours contracts, poor working conditions, redundancies, lack of job security, in-work poverty and discrimination. All of which are currently rife in the UK.
The changes in employment over the last 40 years of neoliberal policy has been well documented. However, very little time is spent considering the impact this has on society. With the rise in the gig economy, through companies such as Uber and Deliveroo using every tactic possible to exploit workers, it is easy to see why workers feel disempowered. Whole working-class communities were once able to force change through campaigns, and workers could join and collectively build powerful trade unions. Now, we have become an individualised society, that hides behind the façade of social media, portraying an unrealistic lifestyle. People are simply too afraid to speak out against their employer, and it is easy to see why.
The Health and Safety Executive reported that in 2018, work-related stress, anxiety and depression accounted for over half of all working days lost due to ill health. Despite such figures, many workplaces do not provide meaningful mental health support. Everyone’s experience of mental health is different, and everyone will require different support. HR departments must therefore undergo better training on mental health, and employers must positively foster good mental health in the workplace. This can, however, only be achieved by improving workers’ rights and conditions. Employers should no longer be allowed to hide behind a badly drafted company policy that is worth nothing more than the paper it’s written on.
Treating an employee unfairly because of their mental health can be discrimination if the legal definition of disability under Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 is met. However, this only provides a means of redress. Let’s focus on building a collective, and empowering the work force to demand better from employers. We should not be afraid to disclose our mental health issues in the workplace. It’s time employers recognise the role that they play in damaging their workers’ mental health.
Join a Trade Union. Even if your employer does not recognise a union, join one. Be part of the collective. ‘Work, Voice, Pay’ is a campaign strategy adopted by Unite the Union. The campaign empowers workers to demand decent work, a real voice and better pay, which in turn will lead to improved physical and mental health in the workplace. Campaigns like this put workers at its core. One of the many benefits of union membership is free legal advice, and Thompsons Solicitors is a firm that is very proud to support and work alongside Trade Unions.
Blog by Jodie Robertson, Trainee Solicitor.