Health Minister Kim Wilson officially launched Mental Health Awareness Week on Monday, with the focus this year, on an issue she described as “highly relevant in our community”, which is “mental health in the workplace”.

“We think of mental illness as a private issue. In fact, I think many of us would shy away from talking about our emotions and our mental wellbeing at work,” said Ms Wilson.

“Fear of discrimination or being seen as ‘weak’ make mental illness a silent menace. And yet, globally mental health issues cause more absenteeism than any other illness.

“Mental health issues also cause presenteeism, which is when you spend more time at work than required because you may feel you don’t have job security.”

She noted that 300 million people suffer from depression, many of whom also suffer from anxiety symptoms.

“A recent study led by the World Health Organisation estimated that the cost of depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy one trillion US dollars each year in lost productivity.

“In the UK 70 million work days are lost each year due to poor mental health, and six out of ten people say poor mental health impacts their concentration at work. Not only do we feel better with good mental health, but out employers benefit from improved productivity. So why isn’t mental health a bigger conversation in our community and our businesses?”

The Minister also noted the “stigma people feel with mental illness”. “It speaks deeply to us about our fears of not being strong, not being able to cope. But in the end, it is an illness just like any other. It is frequently curable and always manageable. But it has to be acknowledged first so that help and support can be sought.

“What can business do to support mental wellness in their environments? It’s not at all complicated and is frequently just good, common sense practice.”

Ms Wilson encouraged residents to pick up a wellness plan that requires physical activity to promote and maintain mental health.

Speaking at the Carrick House Staff Wellness Centre on Point Finger Road, the Minister said: “Having a wellness programme and encouraging your employees to be physically active is hugely beneficial to reducing stress. Having policies on work-life balance and preventing harassment and bullying helps build supported, trusted and resilient teams.

“Recognising staff and demonstrating their value gives people purpose and meaning, and generally drives up productivity.

“Involving staff in decision-making conveys a feeling of control and participation that improves mental health in everyone – and encourages support for necessary changes and improvements. Offering career path and development can also keep people positive and motivated.

“But not mental illness is preventable. So having a process to identify and refer staff members who may be struggling or finding it hard to cope, and promoting to staff where help is available, ensures mental health issues are identified and treated early.

“Having policies and practices that identify distress, harassment, substance abuse will all help early interventions and treatment – better for individuals, better for companies.

“In essence, all the pieces that make up a positive supporting work environment, also make a mental-health-friendly workplace.”

Ultimately, she said: “There is more that can be done specifically for mental health. Finding opportunities to make mental health and the support available a workplace conversation stops people from feeling isolated when they are suffering and more likely to seek help.

“So to employers I ask for more thought and positive intent in the workplace environment and culture that you are building.

“To employees, I would encourage you to be thoughtful and supportive to your team members and colleagues. What we each do and say each day can make a difference to someone in our lives, and our contribution to a positive work place can prevent mental illness in some instances, and support the recovery of people suffering in others.’

The Minister also noted that the BHB has launched a new scholarship, made possible by “the kind donation of the Bermuda Hospitals Charitable Trust”.

“Two $40,000 per year scholarship are being offered to pursing students who complete the two year course at the Bermuda College and go on to specialize in mental health nursing,” said Ms Wilson.

“An agreement has been entered into with the University of Northampton, so student places as well as funding are now available. This is truly an amazing opportunity and I commend BHB  and the Charitable Trust for making this happen.”

With the global shortage of nurses, she said: “Our community is desperate for people to move into mental health nursing, so I am very happy to see investment in this critical nurse specialty. More Bermudian nurses in this area will help ensure a stable service in the long term. Not only do we want our workplaces to support good mental health, but need the services for those who do suffer from a mental illness to be appropriately staffed by qualified individuals.

“The Ministry of Health also awards the Barbara Ball scholarships to students who are pursing healthcare degrees and I am happy to say that one of the ten new recipients, Shuntelle Paynter, is pursing Mental Health Counselling,” she added.

To address some of the challenges she said the Ministry and BHB “have been reviewing” Bermuda’s Mental Health Act, and a consultation paper is expected to be ready early next year.

The Minister concluded: “Mental health is an issue I’m personally very passionate about, and I hope the business community will embrace this year’s topic wholeheartedly to bring employees better mental health in the workplace.

  • Photos Courtesy of DCI, Feature Photo: Health Minister Kim Wilson with Scott Pearman, COO, BHB and Morrisa Rogers, Clinical Supervisor of Allied Health, MWI. Group Photo: Venetta Symonds, CEO and President, BHB; Dr Anna Neilson-Williams, Deputy Chief of Psychiary, BHB; Judy Richardson, Chief of Nursing, BHB; Dr Chantelle Simmons, Chief of Psychiatry, BHB; Preston Swan, VP Quality and Risk Management, BHB; Tinee Furbert, Junior Minister of Disability Affairs; Scott Pearman, COO, BHB; Health Minister Kim Wilson, Lucille Parker, Acting Chair, BHB; Marlene Taylor, Community Psychiatric Nurse, MWI; Morissa Rogers, Clinical Supervisor of Allied Health, MWI