For the best companies, mental health is a priority both at home and abroad

Dark tunnel

Three difficult weeks into 2021, I thought it would be timely to write about mental health. January is not a good time to be in lockdown, with the grey and dark days, the struggle with home-schooling, and the threat of COVID always in the news. For most of us, vaccines still feel a long way off.

So, what can we say that hasn’t already been said? How honest should I be about my own experience? And how should the likes of Brunel use a privileged position to speak profitably to this exceptional moment?

One thing I do know is that, whatever we do now and over the next few years will help to direct, for better or worse, the lives of the next generation – perhaps of the next few.  I may be suffering the confines of my own narrow, uninspired lockdown life, but there’s a bigger picture here running in the background.

A few people are still thriving – good on you, and please share your secret! But for many of us, life feels just about surviving and trying to get through as best we can. We often forget to acknowledge that just making it through these darkened days is actual work and that, every day, we must make a new commitment to stay indoors and save lives.

Investing & mental health

So, back to our big question: how does what is happening to our mental health relate to our aim as investors to forge a better future?

1 in 6 of the total population is currently experiencing a mental health problem, the great majority of whom are of working age. Among the adult population, 1 in 4 has a mental health issue in any given year. 1 in 5 adults has considered taking their own life at some point. [1]

Now that we have got better about talking about mental health, the next stage is to take collective action. I strongly believe that we have a corporate responsibility to treat mental health as seriously as we treat physical health, or health and safety. Otherwise, one of our social legacies will be a mental health pandemic.

Why is this important? Surely mental health is an individual’s issue? These are the questions I can still hear ringing in my ears, even if they have become less common in recent years. Mental health has a significant impact on the quality of our everyday life and on the choices we make, which means it has an impact on corporate profitability and the economy, too. Like all things ESG-related, we are beginning to realise that what happens to one part ultimately influences the health of the whole.

Creating change

Positive, systemic change requires greater transparency, disclosure and reporting. It requires greater pressure from stakeholders as well as more progressive public legislation. This is why we are strongly supporting CCLA’s approach to building a pioneering investment tool to assess and measure how listed companies are looking after their employee’s mental health. (We would love as many companies as possible to participate in its current consultation. Deadline: 29 January.)

At Brunel, we are:

  • Equipping managers with the skills to support and monitor team members’ mental health
  • Providing practical training that is manageable and can be widely rolled out
  • Fostering good work culture in terms of boundaries, while also enabling people to excel
  • Enabling a work culture that facilitates trust, openness, engagement, responsiveness, flexibility
  • Integrating new research findings about mental health’s impact on productivity into work guidelines/practices

The question I am constantly asking myself is: are we doing enough? The landscape here is changing and our focus throughout lockdown has always been on staff wellbeing. I think the answer is that we are doing what we can but that we are continuing to learn. Perhaps most importantly of all, when it comes to mental health, it is the next generation that will find out just how committed we really were.


[1] Sources: ISO, ILO and Mental Health Foundation

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