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Improving the mental health of citizens

Nowadays mental health issues have been proclaimed as one of the top threats for modern businesses. One in four Europeans is affected by mental health problems each year. Many people experience it without even noticing it and the consequences can be detrimental for the individual and others. About 25 per cent of the Maltese population may experience mental health problems in a given year.

Research carried out by Richmond Foundation in 2011 under the ESF 3.71 project Impact Assessment of Mental Health on Employment for Policy Development shows that 26.9 per cent of participants said they were diagnosed with some form of stress problems and 24.4 per cent with depression.

Another deficit that Richmond Foundation has identified while developing this project is the lack of information available on introducing mental health policies at the workplace. This lack of awareness leads to a certain degree of discrimination and stigma which has had a negative impact on people with mental health problems.

Apart from the lack of awareness, there is also lack of support infrastructures from where potential entities can obtain guidance and assistance on the development and implementation of mental health policies at the place of work.

Healthy Mind for Healthy Business is another EU funded project – ESF 3.193 – being carried out by Richmond Foundation and will run until the end of 2014. This project aims to address the above issues in a structured and professional manner.

The project consists primarily of awareness-raising on mental health issues in the workplace. Its activities focus on enterprises and employees, and are intended to generate positive attitudes towards mental health as an essential prerequisite for employee well-being and personal development, but also for the success of businesses themselves.

The overall objective of the Healthy Mind for Healthy Business project is to contribute towards the integration, retention and progression in the labour market. By aiming to introduce mental health policies at the workplace, the project seeks to safeguard employees with mental health problems.

The ultimate objective is to contribute to healthy lifestyles while maximising the potential of employees and the effectiveness of enterprises in generating wealth and contribute to general well-being and a better quality of life.

The principal stakeholders of the project are trade associations, their member organisations, other enterprises and employers, central government ministries, as well as trade unions, NGOs, employees, human resource and health and safety practitioners, mental health professionals, and the public.

In December 2013, 120 managers and business owners attended awareness rising sessions on mental health at the workplace. Between March and July 2014, five empowerment courses of 14 hours each are being organised where managers and business owners will learn more about the effect of mental health, common mental health issues, stress and how to deal with them.

The findings of the first audit reveal that a considerably high percentage (76.4 per cent) of businesses interviewed think that mental health problems are indeed common in our society, out of which 18 per cent said they are very common. When assessing the types of mental health problems encountered, 47.5 per cent consisted of depression, stress followed with 42.4 per cent, while anxiety issues registered 19.2 per cent.

An important part of the training is to make managers aware of the importance of a mental health policy at the workplace.

The first findings clearly show that the majority of businesses (76.3 per cent) are not aware of mental health policies.

A help desk is available to assist employers with the implementation of a mental health policy.

Outreach programme

In 2001, the Staff and Organisation Support Programme was introduced by Richmond Foundation, to promote and project the mental well-being of employees and to consult and support employers.

This programme identifies signs of sources of stress within the company and provides training and promote best practices. It addresses all company employees about information regarding stress, its effects, the prevalence of mental ill health and how it manifest itself on the physical health.

Managers from these companies were trained how to recognise mental health issues and how to encourage staff members to seek help.

Throughout the years, this programme provided confidential counselling to a good number of employees while they were passing through difficult phases within their professional and/or private life.

Antoinette Shah is the CEO of Richmond Foundation.

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