Blue Monday: an opportunity to banish the taboo of mental health

Bethan Dacey, senior client relationship manager and mental health ambassador, MetLife UK

January can be a difficult month. The Christmas lights have been taken down, the days are short and money is tight. But this year, we have additional challenges to contend with as many of us head back to work at our kitchen tables.

The third Monday of January has been labelled "Blue Monday", or the most depressing day of the year. But it can serve as a useful reminder to employers of the increased importance of offering holistic support for their workforce.

Mental health support in demand

2020 saw the global mental health crisis worsen, with support services across the world struggling to meet rising demand. In 2019/20 an estimated 828,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety across the UK, resulting in an estimated 17.9 million working days lost.

Mental health issues have also become a top cause of presenteeism, where employees are physically present at work, but are unable to perform at their best due to ill health. MetLife UK research finds that 41% of employees believe that their mental health has impacted their productivity levels.

Wellbeing has been steadily rising up the corporate agenda, but the events of last year shone a spotlight on the importance of having a comprehensive support system in place. MetLife UK research revealed a shift in employees’ priorities, from tangible financial support to more holistic care. However, despite mental health support rising up employees’ list of priorities, from 14th position pre-Covid to 5th position post-Covid, many employers are still underestimating its importance.

Nurturing a culture of wellbeing in 2021

In times of high stress or change, self-care often falls by the wayside. Last year saw many companies incorporate mental health practices, such as mindfulness training and yoga sessions, into their working week to engage workers in maintaining their wellbeing, happiness and productivity. MetLife UK data shows that 65% of employees are now more aware of the link between their physical and mental health.

After experiencing first-hand the impact that a strong wellness programme can have, these practices are likely to become part of business as usual moving forwards. This will not only develop a stronger culture with a focus on care and value, but also maintain balanced minds for clear and considered decision making throughout business operations.

Although we are now beginning to address mental health issues more openly, this topic can still be considered a taboo topic in the workplace. If employees don't feel they can speak out about any problems they are facing, employers will not know how best to support them.

Company-wide mental health training can enable staff to help one another and themselves. Business leaders should endeavor to make the process of finding someone to talk to as easy as possible for employees. In addition to training managers to handle these issues with empathy, by training a team of mental health first aiders, companies can ensure that there is always someone on hand to listen and offer guidance.

Supporting the hybrid workforce

Companies should review the services they have in place to ensure that they are aligned with hybrid working. Making sure advice hotlines and counselling sessions can be accessed remotely will be important. MetLife UK’s Wellbeing Hub offers expert advice, 24 hours a day, on a range of topics, supporting employees financial, physical and mental health.

With teams dispersed, proactive care is equally important to identify any emerging issues early and put the right support frameworks in place. In partnership with Health Claims Bureau (HCB), MetLife are offering a new complimentary service - ‘Connected at Home’ - to provide one-on-one support to help employees adjust to a new way of working.

By doing all they can to support a healthy and happy workforce, employers can help to reduce absences and boost morale. This Monday doesn’t have to be blue. Let’s use this date as an opportunity to bring employees together and start important conversations about mental health.