UK workers would rather discuss sex and money with colleagues than mental health, study finds

Just 13 per cent feel comfortable discussing mental wellbeing – ‘last taboo topic’ in workplace

Olivia Petter
Thursday 21 December 2017 11:48

British employees are more comfortable discussing relationship issues and money problems with one another than mental health, a new survey has found.

Health campaigners Time to Change surveyed 2,000 UK workers and found that mental health is the most taboo topic in the workplace, despite an estimated one in four suffering from mental illnesses.

When asked to select from a list of topics that people were happy to discuss, 30 per cent opted for relationship break-ups.

26 per cent chose money problems, 20 per cent said dating advice, 19 per cent said religion and 18 per cent said sex.

Just 13 per cent of those polled said they would feel comfortable talking openly about mental health, making it the lowest-ranking topic overall.

According to HR expert Kerry McGowan, managing director at the HR Specialists, this reluctance could spring from a fear of being discriminated against at work.

“In my experience admitting you have any kind of mental health issue can affect promotion prospects, how you are seen by others and what opportunities are open to you,” she told The Independent. “Therefore, it is no wonder that speaking about one’s own mental health issues is generally the last taboo.

If you have the right support in place, employees can still contribute in the workplace with mental health issues,” she added.

“If employers take a positive approach to mental health issues we all gain from keeping the widest talent in our workforce.”

However, just because we’re not willing to talk about it, does not mean we aren’t keen to address these issues, as more than half of those surveyed said they would support a coworker if they spotted them struggling with a mental health problem.

Although how they would actually support them remains unclear, with 39 per cent admitting they wouldn’t know how to help a colleague with a mental illness.

“You don’t have to be an expert to be there for your colleagues; listening and not judging are some of the most significant things you can do,” Sue Baker OBE, director of Time to Change, told The Independent.

“Take their lead: show an interest in their condition and how it affects them, but be aware that it can be hard to have conversations about your mental health at work, so be patient.

“Small, kind gestures – like making a cup of tea, going for a walk, or dropping an email to check in can mean a lot.”

Beyond supporting one another, Baker added that employers play a crucial part in creating an honest and supportive working environment. One way senior members of staff can do this is simply leading by example, she suggests.

“More senior leaders need to be open about their own experiences with mental health problems to show that they aren’t a sign of weakness, and won’t hinder your career if you open up to your colleagues.

“A workplace where everyone is supported to talk openly about their mental health creates a positive, inclusive and more productive workplace for everyone.”

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