Today, Monday 10 October, is World Mental Health Day, hosted by the World Federation for Mental Health. In previous blogs, we’ve heard about how mental illness can affect 1 in 4 of us in a given year. This could be someone in your team, your office or even yourself.
However, did you also know that 1 in 10 children are affected by a mental health problem in a given year?
The NSPCC’s Childline recently reported that calls from young people reporting suicidal thoughts have more than doubled in the last five years, with mental health conditions one of the major triggers.
So why does this matter to us? A great many civil servants are also parents, or have other family relationships with children. If a close child has a mental health problem then they’re likely to be affected by this. Common mental health problems in children include eating disorders, depression, anxiety and conduct disorder and also self-harm. For colleagues who are parents, they will be focusing their energy on helping their child as well as delivering their day job, meaning they will be busier and more stressed than usual and less likely to be looking after themselves.
Yet how many times have you or your colleagues discussed or even mentioned the topic of mental health at work? It is important that we openly discuss this because those experiencing mental health issues often feel shame and fear of being stigmatised or judged.
As colleagues and managers we should support and signpost colleagues in need to services such as the Employee Assistance Programme. Some departments also have Mental Health First Aiders (or advocates) and support groups that can offer advice and guidance. There are also charities such as YoungMinds that offer support to children and parents. They provide information about different mental health conditions, case studies and signposting to mental health services.
Even simple things like eating well, exercising and having the family’s support can help children. If children do not get the support they need then these problems can continue into adulthood when they enter the workforce. Therefore we need to be aware that young workers could also need additional support.
Mental Health is a key priority of mine and as many civil servants have caring responsibilities for children and adults, we need to make sure that the workplace supports them.
Some departments will be holding talks or events today. The Disability Network in my own department, the Government Legal Department, is holding a half-day of events and speakers hosted at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and I know that other departments will be offering similar activities, so I hope some of you can go along to one. I truly believe that if we talk openly about mental health, then we are all playing a part in eradicating the stigma that can be attached to it, and making the Civil Service a more supportive and inclusive place to work.