“First, my thanks to Paul and Unilever for hosting this afternoon’s event and for your invaluable support as a Founding Partner of the Heads Together campaign. Your company’s leadership on this issue is unparalleled and I cannot thank you enough.
I am also grateful to the Time to Change team and to Mind, another vital member of the Heads Together family, for all of your hard work tackling wellbeing in the workplace.
You now all know a little about our Heads Together campaign. The essence of the campaign is to help change the conversation on mental health. The rapid increase in poor mental health is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society and it is a challenge Catherine, Harry and I feel duty bound to tackle.
All of us in this room have mental health, just as we have physical health, and we will all experience pressures on our mental health at some point in our lives. But for too long, held back by stigma, shame and fear, people have found it difficult to open up to others about those times when their mental health needs support.
Catherine, Harry and I have been campaigning on this issue for only a few months now, but what we have observed already is that when we get our heads together – when we talk and listen to family, to friends and colleagues, we share the load; we reduce the problem; we realise we are not alone and we break down the barriers that prevent us from getting the help we need. It is really that simple: a problem shared is a problem halved.
I suspect all of you in this room agree with most of what I have just said – and the question you therefore may be asking yourselves is, what can we do?
Work, as we all know, can at times be a source of great fulfilment, growth and fun, but also at times a significant source of stress – sometimes, if we are honest, to the point of its being overwhelming.
As a pilot working with an air ambulance charity, I have seen first-hand how work can affect individuals’ mental health. But I have also seen how an employer can create an environment where it is as unremarkable to talk about feeling a bit ‘down’ as it is to admit to having a cold.
All of the air ambulance team know that we can get help for what is going on in our heads if we need it. We know where to turn, as practical help is well signposted, and we know that no-one will judge us if we do admit to difficulties. Mental health exists – just as physical health exists. It is no big deal.
Fortunately, the rewards of such an open approach are worth it for the employer, too – not just the employee. Mental ill-health is the leading cause of absence in the UK, costing businesses nearly £26 billion pounds each year – an average of over one thousand pounds per employee.
So, it is worth it. Our vision to create a society that treats mental health like physical health, as something to be nurtured, needs your help. We cannot do this without employers – and we believe it is in your interest.
Your ability as employers to effect long-lasting social change on mental health by the example you set in your workplaces is something that I strongly urge you to embrace.
And it is not so hard – there are people here to help you.
Outside, you have seen the impressive suite of options available to employers to help address mental health in your organisations. There is a lot to take in but, as a first step – for those of you new to this area – may I suggest you sign up to the Time to Change Employer Pledge. The Time to Change Pledge commits you to change how mental health is talked about and acted upon in your workplace, and provides a good foundation on which to build.
Over the coming months, Heads Together and our partners will be building on the excellent work already being done by many in this room to identify gaps in support, enhance existing services and develop new solutions for mental health in the workplace.
Heads Together aims to change the conversation on mental health and, for this, we need your experience, your expertise and your advice. It would also help us to get people talking if business leaders like you could lead conversations about mental health within your own workplaces. Without employers committed to changing attitudes, we would be pushing a rock uphill – but, with you, we can and will change the way we think about mental health in this nation.
Thank you for your time – and I hope this afternoon is very, very productive.”