The idea of ‘Blue Monday’ originated as a public relations stunt in 2004, when it was used in a press release to promote a travel firm’s winter deals. However, organisations have since used the opportunity to discuss mental health.
Touted as the most depressing day of the year, the third Monday of every January brings winter weather across Europe. Coupled with the long hours and late working nights common at this time of the year in the accounting sector, there is plenty of opportunity for seemingly-minor mental health problems to escalate from added stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
It shows. On accountancy forums such as Reddit’s r/accounting, threads on topics like “I can’t take this anymore” and “If audit is causing my depression, should I quit?” are incredibly popular, with users commiserating over their experiences.
Of course, accountancy does not create depression, but studies cited by the World Health Organisation have shown that difficult work environments, like those found at busy accounting firms, can influence employees’ mental health.
“We know from our research that four in 10 British employees are close to breaking point, meaning that now more than ever, we as a nation need to begin working to look at the causes of stress and to improve our lines of communication and coping mechanisms,” said Kelly Feehan, Services Director at accountancy charity CABA, in a press release.
Is mental health actually a problem?
According to mental health charity Mind, depression is the second leading disability worldwide, and in the UK, one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.
Additionally, the charity reports that one in six people in England experience a mental health problem like anxiety or depression in any given week.
The Big Four have introduced wellbeing measures into their offices, such as Deloitte’s Mind, Body & Purpose programme and KPMG UK’s Be Mindful initiative. Similarly, EY has introduced its EY Mental Health Network and trained over 700 members of staff to provide support to colleagues affected by mental health issues.
“Mental health can impact your life in so many ways and can often go unnoticed by people around you, as behaviour sometimes changes very gradually,” said Chris McCartney, Associate Director at EY, via email. “That is, until it becomes so big it’s not easy to hide and people wonder what happened.”
In addition to his director role, McCartney is also one of EY’s 700-plus mental health first aiders (MHFA). Those trained as MHFAs attend a two-day course, which teaches them how to identify a co-worker who may be struggling, and how to provide them with appropriate support.
“One person specifically sought me out as a MHFA and we spoke for months,” said McCartney. “There had been six months of gradual deterioration in their work and there was something more deep-rooted than underperforming behind this.
“My role as a MHFA was a good bridge for them at an uncertain time; they felt unsure whether this was a situation that they needed to ‘tough out’ or whether they needed to consider professional help. Throughout conversations, I was able to help this individual seek professional support and direct them to resources we have available.”
A new era of mental health support
From international mega-firms to small regional offerings, a study published by the Centre for Creative Leadership showed that a key part of offering appropriate mental health support is doing so in an empathetic manner.
Mental health is a difficult subject for many people to discuss, particularly in workplaces that place importance on professionality. As such, small acts of empathy can be extremely helpful for struggling employees, according to Mind.
The government’s Access to Work scheme recommends allowing employees to work from home when their mental health is poor, and implementing back-to-work schemes for employees who need additional support. Overall, employers should remember that mental health can deteriorate quickly, leaving employees in a suddenly fragile mental state.
Whether an employee just needs a day at home, or a longer-term stay in hospital, the World Health Organisation recommends providing them with the same level of empathy and understanding—letting them know they have a job to come back to.
At the end of the day, firms need to remember that their employees are human, and humans need support.
“When somebody feels they have nowhere to turn, that’s tough,” according to McCartney. “There are often very few outward signs that someone is going through a hard time.
“It’s important to continue educating and training employees to spot the signs and continue efforts to make the workplace a safe place for people to be honest and talk about what’s on their mind.”