‘Help must be given to people suffering mental illness at work’

STRESS: Mental illness
reportedly costs UK
employees up to £42
billion a year
STRESS: Mental illness reportedly costs UK employees up to £42 billion a year


MORE needs to be done in the workplace to support those with mental health difficulties, a former school leader has said, as a report last Thursday (1) suggested mental illness cost UK employers up to £42 billion a year.

Recent statistics from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute revealed that each year
around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lost their job.

The report recommended introducing preventative sick leave which could help those facing
mental health problems.

Pran Patel, 36, previously worked as an assistant principal at a secondary school in Harlow, Essex.

Having suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety and sleeplessness throughout his life, Patel revealed he had to take periods of time off work due to his mental health struggles.

He added the amount of support he received at work “differed”.

Patel, who is from Wolverhampton, had been advised against looking at senior roles in his profession as he could be perceived as “weak”.

“I’ve been told: ‘If you want to be a headteacher, chairs of government and trustees, will think you are weak of character’,” he told Eastern Eye.

“I have worked in organisations with differing levels of support – from feeling like I was truly valued to feeling like I was a burden on the school.”

He believes the acceptance and support concerning mental health was dependent on the experiences of the leadership team.

Teacher Pran Patel has suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety and sleeplessness throughout his life

In one instance, when Patel reached out for help, he was told he would be going for an assessment to organise further support.

“This actually turned out to be a fitness to work interview,” Patel recalled. “I wasn’t even told [this would be happening].”

According to statistics from the City Mental Health Alliance, one in four people will suffer
from a mental health illness in their lifetime.

Steps have been taken by government to tackle the problem – in the recent UK budget, chancellor Philip Hammond announced that £2bn will be given to fund mental health spending.

However, Patel believes although society is aware of the issue, a stigma still exists.

“The aim should be to eliminate the discrimination,” he said.

“The stigma only exists because of the discrimination and it comes down to cultural norms.

“The awareness is fundamentally a good thing, but more still needs to be done with employment practices.”

A 2017 survey by mental health charity Mind revealed one in three men attributed poor mental health to their job. Data also showed that men are less prepared to seek help and take time off than women.

British Asian Patel believes the stigma can become compounded in the community due to factors such as language, traditional gender roles and religion, which can cause further barriers.

“The Asian community is a complex beast because you have divisions of colour, language
[and] religion,” he said. “All of these different divisions make it difficult to reach the community.

“Even the simple act of getting people together into a support group is very difficult because people have such different backgrounds.”

Patel also noted how “toxic masculinity” has contributed to men not reaching out for support.

Patel has admitted the amount of support he received at work “differed”

In all cultures, men are expected to act in a tough, strong hyper masculine way, he said,
and talking about issues is seen as sign of weakness.

“As a result, men, even when they are aware of their issues are often told to ‘grow a pair’ or ‘man up’ when they do share, and as a result, the whole cycle perpetuates,” Patel said.

This is especially pertinent in south Asian communities, he added, as men can be seen as the sole breadwinners for the family so could feel they have to carry the burden alone.

In his own experiences, Patel’s friend group and family have been understanding of his struggles.

However, when he first reached out for professional help, he admitted he did not tell his
family straight away.

“I didn’t want them to worry and I was concerned about the cultural stigma,” he explained. “In the end, they were incredibly supportive, but the initial fear was the act of letting them know.”

There is literally no difference between a physical ailment and a mental one, Patel said, besides one having a stigma attached.

On his advice to individuals suffering with mental health, Patel said people should seek help.

“Although other professionals have told me by speaking publicly I may be viewed as weak, I don’t believe that,” he said. “I believe I can only be a role model. Everyone has a mental health [and] a healthier you is better for everyone.”