How diversity can impact mental health

Diversity and mental healthMental health issues can affect anyone at any point in their lives, with approximately 1 in 4 in the UK experiencing symptoms each year and an estimated 14.3% of deaths worldwide per year being attributable to the illness. Although anyone can be affected, there are groups of people that are significantly more at risk, including certain races, the LGBTIQ+ community, those with low socio-economic status and those with disabilities.

Despite it being so prevalent, an astonishing 71% of people said they would worry about telling their employer if they had a mental health condition for fear of getting a negative response and 300,000 people with mental health problems lose their jobs each year. Although these issues usually aren’t solely due to a person’s workplace, there are many things that employers can do to help the mental health of their employees and reduce the chances of issues arising.

Race and mental health

A person’s race, which can be their colour, nationality, or ethnicity, is a common factor that can impact whether a person is likely to have poor mental health. In fact, it has been shown that compared to 17% of white British people, 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week. Despite this notable difference, it is the white population that is more likely to receive treatment for mental health issues than people from BAME (British, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds. This can prolong a person’s mental health challenges and can lead to individuals questioning their identity and struggling to do everyday tasks, for instance their jobs at work.

Whilst not all racism that contributes to mental health issues occurs at work, TUC has found a staggering 41% of ethnic minority workers have experienced racism at work in the last five years. It is important workplaces make the effort to change these statistics and one way they can do this is by creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment which helps to make staff feel valued and give them a sense of belonging. Another consideration is creating a  race equality plan, which should cover strong messages about zero tolerance of racism, discrimination and harassment and any aspects of your organisation’s culture or processes that are particularly problematic, and how you plan to address them.

The Equality Act 2010 means racial discrimination is against the law, so if you are experiencing it in your workplace, follow your company’s grievance process to make them aware, which may be first speaking to your line manager or the HR department. Find out more on dealing with workplace discrimination here.

LGBTIQ+ and mental health

Whilst anyone can suffer from depression, self-harm, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, it is more common among those who are in the LGBTIQ+ community, as they are 1.5 times more likely to develop anxiety and depression compared to the rest of the population. Stonewall also found that 52% of this community has experienced depression in the last year and 46% of transgender people have even thought about taking their own life during this time. With the high correlation between LGBTIQ+ and mental health problems in England it is important that steps are put in place to prevent this in the workplace and help any employees that are already suffering. To reflect this, the IET recently reported that 30% of LGBTQ+ young people in the UK would not consider a career in STEM fields due to the fear of discrimination. However you can find out more about how the tech industry has made efforts to help LGBTIQ+ equality here.

One way employers can help this in their own companies is by openly supporting LGBTIQ+ charities, creating diversity networks and taking part in events such as Pride. Supporting, and speaking about these issues, will create an open and safe space for people to come forward with any concerns they have. Employers can find more tips on how to diminish inclusion and diversity barriers here.

Socio-economic status and mental health

CIPD has shown that people living in households in the lowest 20% income bracket in Great Britain are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest. This doesn’t just include the unemployed, it also includes those in work who may have low-paid roles or few hours. The current economic climate is particularly challenging for all UK residents with the rise of the cost of living and inflation rates being the highest they have been in decades, however, low-income households are obviously the most affected. According to research by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, a full-time job on the National Living Wage in 2021 did not guarantee you the minimum acceptable standard of living that we as a society consider everyone in the UK should be able to achieve.

In general, being in work has a positive effect on mental health, however, if the job is low-paid or poses potential health risks to the employee, it can have the opposite effect and be damaging to health. Therefore, it is important that employers recognise ways they can support their employees financially and mentally where they can. Companies should aid open communication in case any of their employees are suffering, which may involve regular catch-ups between managers and their staff. They should also ensure that they pay a fair and liveable wage with hourly rates or salaries being high enough to cover the real cost of living. Additionally, employers can provide financial wellbeing support by offering employee benefits and directing employees to financial guidance information, for example the Citizens Advice website. CIPD suggests that another way companies can help is by supporting in-work progression to increase the confidence of their employees and promote good mental health by helping people fulfil their potential.

Physical disabilities and mental health

UK’s Mental Health Foundation has found that more than 15 million people (30% of the UK) live with at least one long-term physical health condition and more than 4 million of these people have mental health conditions too. The ONS has also demonstrated in a report that disabled people’s average ratings for happiness and life satisfaction measures were lower than their non-disabled counterparts and people with long-term physical conditions were likelier to have lower well-being scores than those without. A further factor that can impact a disabled person’s mental health is the workplace, with recent estimates showing that in November 2020 labour participation rate for adults with disabilities was 33%, compared with 75% for non-disabled adults in the same period. However, the Equality Act 2010 makes it against the law for employers to discriminate against an individual because of a disability. In fact, employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable a disabled and non-disabled person to have equal opportunities. Examples of this would be providing extra support or equipment, creating changes to policies or changes to working practices.

If you would like more information on asking your employer for adjustments, you can find out more here or if you feel like you might have faced workplace discrimination you can read more about how to deal with this here.

Learning disabilities and mental health

Around 1.1 million adults in the UK have a learning disability, which is classified as a life-long, intellectual impairment, making it harder for individuals to learn new skills and process information. Between 35-40% of people with learning disabilities also experience mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. The workplace can feel particularly challenging for those with learning disabilities, as reflected in the latest statistics recorded for England in 2020-21 which showed employment rates have been on a downward trend year on year for adults with learning disabilities.  This suggests that employers need to make changes to get more people with learning disabilities into work, and to help keep them in work. This will benefit both the employee and the employer with plenty of companies already having identified that there is a great pool of talent to be had by employing a person with a learning disability, and it also helps them to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

There are many ways employers can encourage those with learning disabilities to apply for jobs. Examples of this would be using easy-to-read language on job adverts, providing interview questions to the candidate in advance so that they have time to prepare, and arranging a visit to the workplace beforehand so they can familiarise themselves with the environment and journey. If the candidate then secures employment, there are further things the company can do to help the employee. These can include having a longer induction period at the start of the employment, so they have time to process the new information and get to grips with the role. And providing regular feedback or supervision sessions so the employee can build their confidence; allowing them to receive praise when they are doing well and giving them a clear plan on how to improve. It has been shown that organisations that embrace their neurodivergent employees by adapting to support them are more likely to experience advantages such as increased productivity, creativity, innovation and talent retention, so it is important companies do what they can to help those with learning disabilities.

As we have covered, there are many factors that can impact a person’s mental health, but there are some circumstances where the likelihood of poor mental health can be exacerbated, one being the workplace. Due to this, it is important that employers recognise where they can help support their current employees and increase diversity and inclusivity for future candidates. If you are an employer and want to know how inclusive your company this survey is an effective first step.

You can also find out more about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace here.