How an Ipswich company is confronting the ‘national epidemic’ of mental health

Claire Thorpe from SimpleClick. Picture: SimpleClick

Claire Thorpe from SimpleClick. Picture: SimpleClick - Credit: Archant

One in three Britons have suffered from mental health problems in the workplace, but companies are often reluctant to admit it’s an issue in their company.

The web development agency Simpleclick in Ipswich wanted to tackle the issue head-on by investing in mental health first aid training for two of its staff - consultancy director Claire Thorpe and managing director Richard Jennis.

Ms Thorpe has been appointed ‘mental health lead’ for her staff team of ten, who are based in offices on Felixstowe Road.

During the one-day training course she undertook in Ipswich last month, Ms Thorpe developed ideas on how SimpleClick can prevent staff from becoming overwhelmed with work-related problems.

“The issue is that people don’t talk about their mental health,” explained the 38 year-old. “People are very unlikely to say ‘I’m feeling too anxious or depressed to come in to work’, they’re more likely to say they have an upset stomach or a headache. You have to look for the signs, which could be that the employee looks more withdrawn or is acting differently, and know how to approach them.”

A recent survey by HealthTech startup Mynurva found that 32% of all UK adults in full-time employment have suffered from mental health problems in the workplace, and of those, 37% have never sought any professional help for it.

“It’s clear that we are facing a national epidemic,” said Ms Thorpe. “Doing the course has made me realise how common it is.”

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As well as putting up posters, Ms Thorpe is now conducting monthly one-on-ones with staff - “not necessarily on work and performance, but more on wellbeing and how much stress people feel under,” she explained.

“If you are a natural problem solver like I am, you want to find a solution to fix people’s problems. But that’s not my job. I can be somebody who can listen to them, and that can make a crucial different.”

One aspect of Ms Thorpe’s training was around knowing the right language to use. “‘To talk about ‘committing suicide’ evokes feelings of ‘sin’ and implies fault, so it’s better to say someone ‘takes their own life’ for example,” she explained.

Simpleclick is also tackling the issue by providing more flexible working opportunities and regular social events to alleviate staff pressures.

Ms Thorpe finds that workplace stress varies depending on the job role people have. “We employ a lot of developers and find that they are prone to be more quiet and less forthcoming about their problems, while in the marketing department, people are quite open,” she said. “Sales people often thrive on stress - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need stress to perform, but when you put unrealistic expectations on staff, they feel out of control. In our team, we have open communications and we don’t pile on unnecessary pressure.”