East Sussex County Council is calling for businesses and organisations to back the Time to Change campaign, which encourages greater openness about mental health.
More than 86,000 people and almost 350 organisations across the country, including the county council, have signed a pledge to tackle the stigma and discrimination around mental health.
To coincide with National Stress Awareness Day, on Wednesday, November 4, the council’s public health team is calling for people to back Time to Change, an initiative organised by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.
Graeme Potter, a mental health improvement specialist at East Sussex County Council, said: “At least one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life and one in six adults has a mental health problem at any one time, so it’s a subject we all benefit from talking about.
“This campaign is all about encouraging people to open up and challenging the stigma which unfortunately still persists.
“Encouraging workplaces to put health and wellbeing at the heart of everything they do helps employees to feel more supported, experience greater job satisfaction and benefit from improved resilience and wellbeing.
“Some employers find it hard to understand the difficulties faced by people experiencing mental health problems, but there is a wealth of help and information available which can help them provide a supportive environment.
“As well as enjoying a better quality of life, enjoying good mental health means staff are more productive, more creative and less likely to need to take time off sick.”
Businesses, organisations and individuals can sign up to the Time to Change pledge, find tips on talking about mental health and order free resources online at www.time-to-change.org.uk
Free training to help East Sussex employers and employees increase their knowledge and understanding of mental health problems is available from Brighton-based charity Grassroots Suicide Prevention at www.prevent-suicide.org.uk
He said: “When I returned to work, it was decided a move to a different role would be beneficial and at the time this felt like a punishment and that my mental health had got in the way of my career.
“However, I had a new line manager who was very supportive, held regular meetings to monitor my wellbeing and ensured issues identified by occupational health were actioned.
“With their support I was encouraged to be more open and honest about my illness and saw this as a chance to share the benefits of working closely with your manager to overcome issues in the workplace.
“Looking back, I realise that I used to hide my illness but have learned over the past six years that people can really help if they are aware of your condition.
“My experience has taught me that tackling workplace stress and mental health conditions is possible, but it is a joint dialogue between the employee and the manager.”
Elle Quinton, 26, from Eastbourne (pictured top), experiences depression and anxiety.
She said: “I find that constantly feeling stressed every day at work leaves me without the reserve energy I need to push myself through my mental health struggle.
“Discounting mental health absences, my sick record is the same as my colleagues, however including them I have a high sick record. I worry that I am going to be in trouble because of this, and as a result sometimes force myself to go back to work before I feel ready.
“People often don’t understand that just because you cannot see the symptoms of the illness in the same way you can with a physical disability, doesn’t mean it’s not as hard to live with.
“I prefer to be open and candid with work about my depression and anxiety because I believe the more I can help them understand, the more they are able to help me.”
Mark, 50, from Lewes, experiences stress and depression *
He said: “I feel like I have to be an actor and my constant humour and bon-viveur image are the face paint and costume that proclaim normality. To admit to suffering with the ‘black dog’ would be to fundamentally alter people’s perception of me.
“Unfortunately, there’s still a sense that to admit to suffering from stress or depression is to admit weakness and that it could limit your career progression.
“It would help if we had workshops that might allow people to understand the range of issues captured under the mental health umbrella, to remove the stigma and show people that although someone’s got a mental health problem, they’re still the same person.
“Managing stress should be seen as something we all need to do on a daily basis and workplaces should try and make talking about these issues normal.”
* – name has been changed