Banks must make time to join the mental health conversation

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This week is Depression Awareness Week – seven days to raise the profile of mental health and provoke thought on how we manage it as a society.

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That we need an ‘awareness week’ at all is an indictment of how long this fundamental issue has been largely ignored, especially by big business, but there are promising signs of momentum. This week can be a time when individuals, especially managers and senior leaders, reconsider their perspective on mental health – and most importantly what they can do to support others.

In the City, mental health – and the broader concept of psychological wellbeing – has been thrust into the media spotlight over the past 12 months, often for the wrong reasons. Chronic high workloads, long hours, and unforgiving, perhaps tough, cultures have all played a part. It can be hard for individual bank workers to consider their mental health and make it a priority with all of these competing demands,and the stigma of discussing what some wrongly view as a ‘weakness’.

But, just as we’re casting our glances to green shoots in the economy, there are signs too that the sector may be starting to set itself up for a mentally healthier future. Amongst the 160 organisations that have made a public commitment by signing the Time to Change pledge are Lloyds TSB and Bank of England. This statement of intent at a group level is vital if attitudes are to change at an individual level. Many of the issues that contribute to poor psychological health, and chronic stress, are certainly clearly understood by many who have experienced them in the sector. The missing piece is not just the authorization of the business to spend time and resources in addressing mental health, but also the tacit acknowledgement of it as a key strategic issue.

In a sector with such a high performance focus – something that has put UK banks at the centre of global financial markets – we shouldn’t ignore the bottom line benefits of good mental health as a method of engaging more in the debate. In the sector there has been a rise in presenteeism (illness or reduced performance at work), and it’s difficult for employee assistance programmes to really know the state of psychological health of the workforce, except in those serious cases where individuals are referred for help.

Thanks to organisations like the Depression Alliance, there is plenty of support and advice at hand for those in the financial sector looking to take their first steps and make mental health a priority. The Bank Workers Charity are engaged in a long term review of the pressures that exist in the sector and their recent research is an invaluable resource for those looking to understand the modern bank worker and their priorities. The business case is also made in much recent research, of the financial benefits of higher psychological wellbeing, increased engagement and ultimately higher, more sustainable performance.

What we need now are more senior figures to stand up and be counted. Even if it starts with a simple conversation about mental health in their organisation, moving this issue to the front of minds is a not only a route to a mentally healthier sector, it can drive financial health too.

You can find out more about depression and download some useful resources via the Bank Workers Charity website.

The Bank Workers Charity are working with the leading mental health charity, Mind to pilot workplace mental health training for line managers within the banks.

If you would like your bank to get involved with this please email Alisa.Hamzic@bwcharity.org.uk

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