Former GP Zain Sikafi, CEO and co-founder of Mynurva, tells us why business owners should not ignore Blue Monday.

Blue Monday. A name given to – purportedly – the most depressing day of the year. Typically, Blue Monday falls on the third Monday of January, and this year it will be observed on the 21st of January.

Despite being created by a PR company using a formula which looks at factors like weather conditions, debt levels and the time since Christmas (it’s scientifically questionable, admittedly), we shouldn’t scoff at this event. Symptoms like stress, anxiety and depression affect a huge number of people year-round, and Blue Monday gives us a good opportunity to reflect on the issue of mental ill-health.

Business leaders in particular should use this day – and prominent awareness days like it – to reflect on their workplace culture, and consider ways in which they could improve the support available to their employees.

What do the stats say about mental health?

It’s estimated that one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem each year, but what does the picture look like in the workplace? Mynurva recently conducted some nationally-representative research to explore this question. And we discovered some startling statistics: 32% of all UK adults in full-time employment have suffered from mental health problems.

That’s one in every three employees. Even more alarmingly, 37% have never sought any professional help, while a massive 44% never even disclosing their issues to a manager at work.

So why is it that workers up and down the country are suffering in silence? The problem almost certainly lies in workplace cultures and the stigma surrounding the topic. In fact, more than half (55%) of people said they fear that admitting their problems to a manager would hinder their chances of a promotion, and an even greater percentage (59%) fear that if their struggles became common knowledge it would negatively impact their relationships with colleagues.

What can business leaders do?

Clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done if we’re ever to solve the pertinent issue of mental ill-health in the workplace. And changes must certainly start from the top; business owners need to make employee wellbeing a priority and ensure that workers feel comfortable discussing their struggles openly – without fear of repercussions or stigmatisation.

Even generating conversations about the topic can be invaluable to improving people’s knowledge and understanding of mental health – not only helping to battle the stigma that unfortunately still prevails in many workplaces, but also encouraging employees to speak out and seek help.

Addressing mental health also means having effective support systems in place for those who are struggling to cope with stress and depression. This includes both internal avenues of support – headed by a HR team, for example – or else directing employees to external support systems and encouraging them to speak to a professional, whether this is a GP or a therapist.

Thankfully, employers can also educate their staff about new technologies that can help. Online platforms and apps are on hand to provide fast and easy access to hugely valuable services; busy professionals certainly stand to benefit from such solutions.

As a society we must strive to break the taboo surrounding the subject of mental health – dismiss Blue Monday if you like, but today is as good a day as any to start having important conversations around mental health. Business owners are urged to use this day as a day of reflection; to consider their workplace culture and to make sure they actively facilitating an open environment where nobody is left to suffer in silence.