BY REBECCA ENGLISH - Daily Mail
Prince William has called on businesses large and small to take the mental health of their employees more seriously.
Mental ill-health is the leading cause of absence in the UK, costing businesses nearly £26billion pounds each year – an average of over £1,000 per employee - the royal told a meeting of FTSE 100 company representatives.
Employers, he said, should strive to create a culture where it is as easy to pick up the phone and admit that you are suffering from depression as it is to say you have a cold.
And the pilot prince praised his own bosses at East Anglia Air Ambulance for doing just that for its staff, who are often faced with horrific life or death situations.
He said: 'Work, as we all know, can at times be a source of great fulfilment, growth and fun, but also at times a significant source of stress – sometimes, if we are honest, to the point of its being overwhelming.
'As a pilot working with an air ambulance charity, I have seen first-hand how work can affect individuals' mental health.
'But I have also seen how an employer can create an environment where it is as unremarkable to talk about feeling a bit 'down' as it is to admit to having a cold.
'All of the air ambulance team know that we can get help for what is going on in our heads if we need it. We know where to turn, as practical help is well signposted, and we know that no-one will judge us if we do admit to difficulties.
'Mental health exists – just as physical health exists. It is no big deal.'
William has started the Heads Together campaign along with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge and brother, Prince Harry, in order to help change the conversation on mental health.
He said: 'The rapid increase in poor mental health is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society and it is a challenge Catherine, Harry and I feel duty bound to tackle.
'All of us in this room have mental health, just as we have physical health, and we will all experience pressures on our mental health at some point in our lives. But for too long, held back by stigma, shame and fear, people have found it difficult to open up to others about those times when their mental health needs support
'When we talk and listen to family, to friends and colleagues, we share the load; we reduce the problem; we realise we are not alone and we break down the barriers that prevent us from getting the help we need.
'It is really that simple: a problem shared is a problem halved.'
William urged his audience at the briefing, hosted by Unilever, one of the campaign's founding partners, to start setting an example in the workplace by encouraging people to talk about the issue.
'Without employers committed to changing attitudes, we would be pushing a rock uphill – but, with you, we can and will change the way we think about mental health in this nation,' he said.
Chatting earlier with already established mental health organisations such as MIND and CALM, William said: 'The corporate world is quite key to hit.
'It is very proud and we need to break down barriers.
'We need to get people to see the positives and talk about these things.'
William also spoke to representatives of his father's charity, Business In The Community, whose Wellbeing at Work Campaign Director, Louise Aston, told him: 'The companies that that are doing it well are doing it really well. But there is still a long way to go,' she said.
'A lot of businesses think this is too a difficult an area to challenge but there are still small steps that they can take.
'Creating an open culture where people feel able to talk about the mental health in the way they do about their physical health. '
Unilever's CEO, Paul Polman, said of the continuing stigma: 'If you had a problem with your heart you would tell your manager.....Yet one of the biggest killers [in terms of staff lost through suicide], one of the biggest losses to business and we don't want to talk about it.
'Your company won't change if the tone from the top doesn't set a signal.'