From education to employment

Creating a work environment where people can open up about #MentalHealth

Paula Sussex, Chief Executive, Student Loans Company (SLC)

As a society we are becoming increasingly aware of mental health issues and the impact they have on all aspects of our lives.

As the CEO of an organisation which employs over 3,300 people I am particularly mindful of how mental health affects people in the workplace.

One in four people in the UK will experience mental health issues in any given year; however, not everyone chooses to disclose this in the workplace.

The reality is that the colleague we sit next to every day could be experiencing real problems without us even knowing.

Time to Change, the social movement that’s working to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems, reports that mental ill-health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK with the Centre for Mental Health highlighting mental ill health costs UK employers an estimated £34.9 billion per year.

They also explain that silence around the issue can be worse than the mental health problem itself.

At SLC, we have been working hard to create an environment where people feel they can be open when it comes to talking about mental health. In 2017 we launched our Mental Health First Aid(MHFA) Network.

Since then we have trained over 40 colleagues in mental health first aid across our sites in Glasgow, Llandudno Junction and Darlington who are all equipped with the skills to support staff in crisis or distress.

This, in addition to our Employee Assistance Programme, which provides 24/7 expert guidance from a team of wellbeing and counselling practitioners means our colleagues always have access to confidential and professional support.

Our MHFA programme is such a success we have shared our learnings with other organisations such as ScottishPower, and housing associations who were keen to adopt a similar approach.

SLC has also been a steering group member of ‘This is Me Scotland’ – a network of organisations that are collaborating to build inclusive workplace cultures, reduce stigma, dispel myths and improve employee well being. We look forward to working with similar networks in England and Wales.

While many positive steps have been taken, we can’t afford to be complacent and this week, Mental Health Awareness Week, my executive leadership team (ELT) colleagues and I signed the Time to Change Pledge, renewing our commitment to improving the culture around mental health in the workplace.

This is more than just a symbolic gesture, in practice this is about building on what we have already achieved.   For example, we are now involving our mental health first aiders in the delivery of training to our managers, so that they are aware of the simple steps to improve the management of mental health in the workplace, including early identification of problems.

We will also continue to tap into the expertise and resources provided by movements like Time To Change, This is Me and the Mental Health at Work Gateway website, as well as collaborating with partner organisations and learning from what they are doing.

Supporting mental health in the workplace and developing a prevention first approach to health and wellbeing means we are definitely on the right track to creating a supportive culture where it’s ok to ask for help when it’s needed and I think that’s something we can be very proud of.

Paula Sussex, Chief Executive, Student Loans Company (SLC)

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