Laura Stembridge, CEO and Founder of InsideOut, explores why an increased focus on mental health has meant the opening up of the discussion around this topic with many organisations now considering how best to evolve and improve support for all of their employees. Laura has a MSc in Mental Health and is a published academic author.

In March 2020, the world ground to an unprecedented halt when national lockdowns were announced in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our generation was met with great uncertainties that we never could have imagined and was faced with the reconsideration of our freedoms that we have taken for granted for much of the last century.

Covid-19 has created a continuum of personal and social impact, where for some, the lack of normality, loss of routine and inability to meet freely with friends, family and colleagues was traumatic. The fear of physical illness and the unexpected loss of loved ones greatly compromised many people’s wellbeing (physical, social, financial and emotional). Others on the other hand gained time and space, within which there was an opportunity to reconsider their values, habits, relationships and purpose for the future, with many changes becoming beneficial to their mental health.

The pandemic, for better or worse, has raised the profile of mental health. Through normalising the conversation around mental health, many people have been able to speak about their thoughts, feelings and emotions freely. In some organisations, industries and sectors, reduced stigma and discrimination has enabled employees to talk more openly and honestly about challenges such as burnout, stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and so on.

That said, despite all the advancements, there is still a long way to go however in ensuring that all employees have timely and affordable access to a range of mental health support services. Suicide remains the leading cause of death in men under the age of 45 – a heart-breaking statistic. Early intervention support, such as talking therapies, when accessed via the NHS, have significant wait times and not all employees are in a position to be able to afford to self-pay for private therapy or coaching support.

In essence, we have a clear health divide across society where those who can afford to see a mental health practitioner privately receive a better standard of care, versus those without. The issue here, as with many physical health conditions, is if conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression are left untreated, the worse they become over time. What may start as a small challenge, perhaps feelings of low mood or uncertainty, can exacerbate over time if the trigger of the cause is not identified and addressed. Here comes the issue, the prevalence rate of mental health challenges is on the rise, in fact the WHO expect it to hit an all time high of 1 in 2 adults in the next 12 months. Furthermore, when someone is struggling with a mental health challenge, they are often not the only ones impacted. Caring for mental health sufferers can be equally as challenging for colleagues, friends and family members who often feel the strain and don’t have the tools to be able to cope themselves.

Barriers to mental health access are not just confined to personal, economic status. Many organisations provide different levels of mental health and wellbeing benefits depending on the employee’s grade. Furthermore, stigma around talking about mental health challenges continues to exist amongst some age, culture and ethnic groups. The mental health conversation is much more advanced in the western world compared to other regions. Whilst data suggests that other geographical domains may have a lower prevalence rate of mental ill health cases, this is arguably because the majority of cases go unidentified and unreported. But they certainly do exist. Timely access to mental health support services is not readily available for most employees and certainly not on a global scale. When looking at things in this light, it’s easy to see how the global suicide rate is currently so high, 1 death every 40 seconds (WHO).

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health in an unequal world’. It is a chance to bring attention to the fact that not everyone has the same access to the mental health tools that they many need. Many employees will be facing challenges that we know nothing about. It’s important to show compassion, be kind and recognise that the world isn’t equal.

At the point where many people are returning to the office, or adjusting to hybrid working models, opportunities are now emerging for HR leaders to evaluate the mental health support services on offer to employees. I ask you to consider if the support services you provide for your employees are accessible to all? Do they provide preventative and early intervention care? Are they available globally if relevant?

Based on sound business cases, investment in long-term new mental health platforms that have recently come to the market can safeguard against mental ill health, whilst workplaces and workforces go through the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. By investing in a new platform, such as InsideOut, organisations can realise the human and economic capital from nurturing the mental health of their teams.

I call for all organisations, regardless of size, sector or industry to consider how they can bridge the mental health gap by offering both preventative and early intervention mental health support to all their employees across the organisation.

Together we can improve the quality of lives, which in turn is proven to raise productivity and profitability and make our businesses happier and healthier places to work at. There has never been a more opportune time to invest to do so.