Lindsey Bennister, MQ Chief Executive, speaks frankly about the impact of mental health on our working lives and tells us what MQ is doing to help.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about MQ. What you do, why you do it and what you hope to achieve?
A. We’re MQ – the UK’s leading mental health research charity. We were set up to fill a major gap in the mental health sector – building a movement of support for scientific research. We are championing research to transform the lives of everyone affected by a mental illness, creating a world where mental illness is understood, effectively treated and one day preventable. We fund over 41 projects internationally and our scientists investigate a huge range of conditions: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and more. We’re bringing together everything from cutting-edge neuroscience to social studies to find the answers we need.
Q. Do you feel that mental health in the workplace is being tackled adequately by UK businesses?
A. Work can give us purpose and motivation in life. But for many people, work is a highly stressful environment and this means it can be a damaging place for their mental health. Many employers are beginning to get to grips with this challenge and there has been a step change in levels of awareness, thanks to high-profile campaigns and business-leaders speaking out. Important initiatives have also been developed to promote positive mental health and signposting for those in need.
Despite these advances, there is still a lack of evidence-based support for people in the workplace, to prevent problems before they occur and provide effective help. Building on increased awareness, there is now a clear need for research to provide the tools to truly transform mental health in the workplace.
Q. What more should we be doing to help colleagues facing mental health challenges?
A. We would encourage employers to look at the recommendations of the recent Stevenson/Farmer review led by MQ’s founding chairman, Lord Dennis Stevenson. This set out a roadmap for employers to systematically improve mental health. It reviewed practice across 200 organisations and set out 6 ‘mental health core standards’ for employers to adopt that lay basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health. The new Mental Health at Work website also provides online gateway to tools, guidance and training to help businesses promote good workplace mental health.
Q. In your opinion has our mental health deteriorated as a society in recent years, or are our problems simply more visible?
A. Mental health is talked about more than ever before, awareness is rising and stigma is being tackled. Importantly, this has created an environment where more people feel able to come forward for help. However, the increased demand also places significant pressure on services, which lack the resources and tools to adequately respond.
Recent data has shown that in young women, rates of mental illness are actually increasing. The reasons for this are complex and action is urgently needed to address this worrying trend. More broadly, significant challenges remain. Current treatments only work for around 50% of people. And huge numbers of people that are unwell are currently receiving no support. We know that 75% of young people with a mental illness aren’t in treatment – and it can take a decade to get help. Increased investment in services is vital. But it will also take a significant investment in research so that resources can be tailored to work effectively for everyone that needs them – and prevention strategies are prioritised.
Q. Can you see a future where mental illnesses can be prevented?
A. Yes, prevention is not only possible but should be a priority for mental health. Through investing in research, we can dramatically improve our understanding of mental illness, who is likely to be at risk, and how we can best intervene. This is key if we want to move to a situation where anyone who experiences – or may be at risk of – a mental health condition gets exactly the help they need, when they need it. You only have to look at conditions like cancer of HIV to see the major advances that are possible when research is put to work. At MQ, we’re here to build a movement to make that happen for mental health. We are working closely with people who have lived-experience of mental illness, scientists, and the public to transform mental health.
Q. What appealed to you about partnering with This Can Happen?
A. Both the people involved and the scope of the project appealed to us at MQ. We’ve had the pleasure of working before with Jonny and Neil, who are passionate advocates for improving mental health and bringing about change, whether in services, schools, or workplaces. This project adds to the significant work underway in the area of workplace mental health. It provides a platform to share best-practice, discuss evidence, and continue the important job of raising the profile of this vital issue. We are delighted to be a part of this growing and important movement.