Lessons from mental health promotion in working life in Scotland

There are partially different approaches and practices how to promote mental health in working life in Scotland and in Finland. This is what I learned during my secondment in Scotland from the 14th November to the 14th December 2019.  

I was offered a valuable opportunity to be seconded to Strathclyde University in Glasgow as a secondee of the CRISP project, my point of departure being MIELI Mental Health Finland, Helsinki, where I work as a communication specialist.

My aim was to get an idea about mental health promotion activities in Scotland, and more specifically focus on mental health promotion in working life. I had an opportunity to network with a bunch of brilliant professionals at Strathclyde university and in Scottish associations, specialized on mental health promotion from different angles. In our meetings, I was also able to to tell about our recent development projects related to working life, ruled by MIELI Mental Health Finland and its partners. Lastly, I was invited to attend a launch conference of the Thrive Edinburgh, a new mental health promotion programme of the city of Edinburgh.

There are certainly many differences between occupational health care and occupational health and safety system in Finland and in Scotland. However, instead of the instututions and structures I had an interest rather in various mental health promotion activities.

With the See Me I got to know about anti-stigma work through See Me Let’s Chat Tool and the new Self-Assessment Tool for workplaces. With Tom Scott at See Me we discussed on See Me’s Workplace Equality Project, and the report Leading way for mental health inclusion in the workplace. The aim of the project was disseminating anti-stigma approach in workplaces through seven principles: commitment of senior leaders and managers, safe disclosure and informing management of mental disorder, adopting adjustments in work community, training and development, general mental health awareness and creating a stigma free culture and ethos.

I got an overview of Mental Health Foundation’s (MHF) activities, programmes and campaigns, and the Open Honest Proud opened up their anti-stigma work in practice.  Introduction to the MHF workplace and corporate development programmes, kindly offered by brilliant Chris O'Sullivan, was very valuable, and some initiatives had similar elements with our developement projects in Finland. Our project people certainly find these ideas and practices supportive to our projects. Links of the comparative resources in the UK are listed in below.

In NHS Scotland when meeting with Shirley Windsor I learned, among other things, about the framework of standards of occupational health and the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, a support for employers for creating a mentally flourishing workplace. The Workplace Wellbeing Charter is a free opportunity for employer to demonstrate the commitment to the health and wellbeing of their employees. The Charter is carried out through documenting the impact of work and working conditions on wellbeing throughout organisation. 

The Charter also provides an employer with a guide on how to make workplace more supportive and productive environment for employees’ wellbeing. Also the evidence has shown financial benefits, including reduced sickness absence, improved productivity and reduced staff turnover as a result of applying the charter. The steps of the Charter can be found here.

In Social Marketing Gateway I got to know the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Health Skills Scale and the Planning guide to Social Marketing, which is an online toolbox.

Based on our meetings, an anti-stigma approach seemed somewhat stronger in Scotland and in the UK (seen of course from the Scottish perspective), in comparison with a broader approach for building mental health capacity in Finland, along with some collaborative development projects. In Scotland a focus on people living with mental health problems in working life was more visible. In Finland we tend to talk about prevention of mental health problems and promotion of mental health with various activities.

However, shared in both countries is a rising interest in mental health promotion in workplaces and within work communities in general. Work is also commonly perceived as a key factor in supporting and protecting mental health. The estimations of costs of mental health problems, and value added of mental health at work is a part of the trend. For instance, people living with mental health problems contributed an estimated £226 billion gross value added (12.1%) to UK gross domestic product. This is 12.1% of GDP overall, and as high as nine times the estimated cost to economic output arising from mental health problems at work.

All in all, I had a chance to spend an interesting month in Scotland, meeting lovely, hospitable and competent people and getting insight in a wide variety of Scottish mental health promotion activities. Personally and professionally it standed for a rewarding period, and lessons learned will serve our efforts to strengthen mental health in workplaces in Finnish working life.

Further resources on mental health in working life

Anti-stigma resources:

Added Value – Mental Health As A Workplace Asset: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/addedvalue

BITC’s work: Workplace Wellbeing Survey https://www.bitc.org.uk/wellbeing/

The Thriving at Work Report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers  

The Commitment / The Thriving at Work: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/commitment/

About The Mental Health and Retail Partnership in the UK: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/workplace/wellbeing-retail/

The Health and Safety Executive paper on effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid (including a Cochrane Review in press on this): https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr1135.htm

Unmind: https://home.unmind.com/

A discussion paper on prevention at work:

The Workplace Wellbeing Charter


Ellen Tuomaala
Communications Specialist
Mental health promotion, advocacy work

+358 50 590 2052 Maistraatinportti 4 A, 7th floor, FI-00240 Helsinki, Finland