For many years mental health has been a taboo subject that has gone unspoken. However, nowadays more and more organisations are becoming open to the mental health discussion. Evie Rusman speaks to financial institutions about what they are doing for those struggling

According to recent statistics, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Additionally, in England, one in six people in any given week report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression.

As a result, financial organisations across the globe are looking at ways to increase awareness surrounding mental health and introduce initiatives to support those who need it.

HSBC is one of the more recent organisations to jump on the bandwagon and introduce a new mental health scheme. Last month, the banking giant joined forces with United for Global Health (UGMH) to support and take action on mental health. This comes as more pressure is being put on higher ups to increase awareness of mental health.

Nuno Matos, CEO of HSBC Mexico, says: “We will never overcome the stigma of mental ill-health unless we are prepared to talk about it. I want everyone to be able to share their mental health experiences without fear or prejudice.”

Like many other financial institutions, HSBC has increased its focus on mental health in recent years. Last year, the bank was host to a number of events to mark World Mental Health Day.

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In addition, HSBC will launch an education programme on mental health open to all employees later this year. This includes, offering guidance on how to spot the signs of poor mental health, start supportive conversations and point people towards sources of help.

Local employee assistance programmes are also available at HSBC. These offer free confidential counselling and aim to help with issues such as stress, anxiety, depression and bereavement.

Attitudes are changing

Attitudes surrounding mental health within the workplace have had to change recently in order to provide necessary support. Banks and financial institutions are no exception to this.

Speaking to RBI, Drew Baxter-Gibson, Wellbeing Lead for Santander UK, explains how organisations around the world must adopt mental health schemes as they play an important role.

He says: “We encourage any partnership or institution supporting initiatives around mental health as organisations have a key role to play in helping to support their people and developing an overall happier and healthier society.

“At Santander, we’re a member of Business in the Community’s leadership team on Wellbeing and recently contributed to their Mental Health at Work report that found that organisations are improving their mental health support, but have a way to go to properly support employees. We’re completely committed to achieving this and often collaborate with other organisations to do so, including within financial services.”

Santander recently supported the Public Health England’s launch of their Every Mind Matters Campaign aimed at helping people take simple steps to look after their mental health, improve their mental wellbeing and support others.

“Supporting Every Mind Matters helps us build on our ongoing wellbeing activity, providing our colleagues and customers with information and advice to ensure that everyone can find the right support that works for them,” Baxter-Gibson adds.

The Spanish banking group also offer additional support through its Employee Assistance Programme, formally trained Line Managers, HR Helpline and Mental Wellbeing Network.

“I’m very proud to co-chair our Mental Wellbeing Network who do a fantastic job promoting positive mental wellbeing for all our colleagues, and empowering them to speak up when they are in need of support. Topics we cover include stress management, personal resilience, nutrition, sleep, exercise and laughter therapy,” says Baxter-Gibson.

“The network is visible to all Santander colleagues through a national leadership team, and a vibrant community forum site which leads across our main locations that host events and signpost where colleagues can reach out for support.”

Mental fitness

Another bank that has also gotten on board with the mental health discussion is Barclays. Over the past few years, Barclays has introduced a number of initiatives to combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

This October, Barclays launched new mental health training with a focus on mental fitness. The scheme looks at the benefits of a person being mentally fit with a goal to reduce stereotypes by focusing on mental fitness rather than mental-ill health.

As well as this, Barclays are making mental health training compulsory for all colleagues from January 2020.

Furthermore, in June the bank rolled out mental health training for 150 agricultural managers working for its business bank. Through the training, they learnt about mental health triggers that particularly affect farmers and how to spot warning signs. This was in response to figures showing the suicide rate among farmers is almost twice the national average.

What do the charities have to say?

Mental Health UK brings together four national mental health charities working across the country. These include Rethink Mental Illness, Support in Mind Scotland, Hafal and Mind Wise.

Laura Peters, Head of Advice and Information at Mental Health UK, tells RBI, how there has been a change the mental health discussion across the banking sector over the past few years.

She says: “Financial instability can have an extremely negative effect on a person’s mental wellbeing. There are currently about four million people in the UK experiencing a combination of mental health and money problems, but it’s only in recent years that banks have begun to wake up to this.

“With that being said, there are more and more signs of genuine change in the banking sector. Banks are now training staff, both in their branches and on their phone lines, in basic skills to recognise potential signs of poor mental health. Mental Health UK is also currently working closely with Lloyds Banking Group to help them meet the needs of their customers better.

“Of course, more can always be done. Lloyds has a team called the ‘Moments of Truth’ team that’s specifically designed to support people with cancer. We’d like to see similar dedicated care teams available in all banks for people severely affected by mental illness.”

Peters also says how she would like to see more customers referred to services like Mental Health and Money Advice, National Debtline, and Stepchange for support.

What can the higher-ups do?

 Addressing mental health in the workplace can be a difficult thing for employees due to a number of different reasons. For instance, those affected can often feel ashamed or embarrassed and do not want their colleagues to view them in a different light. However, statistics show that by addressing wellbeing at work productivity can increase by 12%.

Peters explains how management and higher-ups within organisations must create an approachable environment. She says: “The best managers promote the message that mental health is ‘everyone’s business’. It’s all about creating the right environment so that if someone wants to speak, they feel able to.

“There are a number of schemes, like workplace peer support and ‘champion schemes’ that can help to do this. Once the service is in place, it’s vital that they are clearly signposted so that staff know how to access them.

“It’s also important to remember that, no matter how encouraging some managers are, some people just don’t want to talk to a co-worker. In these instances, external services like Employee Assistance Programs can be very useful.

“Finally, it’s worth mentioning that small steps can go a long way. A company where all staff are prepared to ask ‘how are you?’ sincerely and to be prepared for a sincere answer, and also to give a sincere answer themselves, is an important mark of an organisation that supports the emotional wellbeing of its staff.”

Giving advice

 Giving advice to a person struggling with a mental illness can be hard to navigate because not everyone is the same and so certain methods will work for some but not for others. However, in terms of the workplace, Peters explains how managers must remain open and considerate.

She says: “It’s always important to try and be patient. It can be difficult for someone to open up about their illness, but it could also be the first time that their manager has had someone open up to them too, and there might be a number of things that they don’t immediately understand.”

Baxter-Gibson highlights how a lot of people are comforted by a variety of different support channels and emphasises how asking for help can be the most difficult obstacle.

He says: “I’d encourage colleagues to seek out what support channels exist, and find the one they are most comfortable with. How you ask for support isn’t as important as that you do ask for it, whether it’s from a loved one, your employer, a charity or a GP. For our part, as organisations, it’s paramount we provide as wide a range of support as possible in order to help colleagues to find the support that works for them.”