Changing the face of mental health in the workplace
In my not so humble opinion, mental health is the yin to physical health yang
Let’s start with a clear statement — Mental health and mental ill-health are not to be confused. If you have a brain, you have mental health.
From a young age, we are taught how to be kind, how to love and how to show up… for everyone but ourselves. We are taught that putting ourselves first is selfish. For some reason we are not taught to build a relationship with ourselves, to get to know yourself so deeply that we know what we want and more importantly, what we need. This lack of self-awareness coupled with hiding anxieties and insecurities to progress in our careers leaves us without the tools we need to look after our mental health. I mean, be honest, do you even know how to look after your mental health? And beyond that… how to look after it in your work life?
There are several laws around mental health in the workplace and the surrounding measures that should be taken. These laws are constantly changing as we learn more around this subject, and as they do, ergonomics and mental health become a more prominent feature within the safety measures a workplace must take for its employees. Mental health first aid is becoming more prominent and organisations are becoming more aware of the effects mental health can have on a business. In recent years, as more millennials start to enter the workplace, companies are having to find new ways to mould an environment that is desirable to them.
Workplaces are changing to keep up with the wants and needs of the younger generations. This younger workforce is looking for things like:
Nobody wants to feel on the outside looking in, people want to feel a part of something. A company with a sense of organisational belonging will go a long way to managing peoples stress levels, which in turn increases productivity.
Most people don’t think they have core values, or at least not enough to rule their life. However, if a company doesn’t align with your personal and workplace values it can put a downer on the whole experience that will greatly affect the work output and overall culture.
Real recognition is about more than a thank you. Recognition is about the way you feel, feeling like you see positive changes from your achievements. Working within a company where you feel as though you are making a difference. where you are not just a cog in the machine.
A work-life balance is something that is important to everyone and may be different for everyone. For some people this means merely being able to take time out for doctors appointments, taking their kids to school etc. For some, this is more towards flexible working hours and remote working.
What the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says:
Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. They are often a reaction to a difficult life event, such as bereavement, but can also be caused by work-related issues[…]Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must to be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.
What ACAS says:
Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes:
- Making sure the working environment is safe
- Protecting staff from discrimination
- Carrying out risk assessments
What Mind charity says:
The Equality Act 2010 is the law that gives you the right to challenge discrimination. This law may protect you from discrimination when you:
- are applying for a job, at work, made redundant or dismissed
- use services or public functions
- buy, rent or live in property
- are in education
Who is responsible?
The short answer — everyone. It’s not an organisations responsibility to spearhead mental health wellness, even though a lot of the weight does lie with them. Employees also have a responsibility to be proactive and be an advocate for a better workplace.
What can the workplace do?
There is a need to build a positive mental environment and culture with regular stress-releasing activities that are tailored to your brand. Mountain climbs, yoga and pub quizzes might not be right for your organisation, you might be more dog walks and online conferences. Whatever your mental health plan is, it needs to come from and be tailored to your employees.
Some of the steps an organisation can take are:
- Actively encouraging and promote a work-life balance to individuals in the workplace — tailored to your employees needs.
- Develop mental health policies within an organisation that specific information and their stance around work-life balance.
- Ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable to avoid them feeling as though they need to work longer hours.
- Periodically look at your work environments to identify elements of practice, policy and culture to keep a healthy work-life balance.
- Allow and support staff in attending counselling and support services during working hours, as they would for other medical appointments.
- Encourage activities that promote good mental health, including lunchtime exercise or relaxation classes. We use external classes online scheduled at dinner time.
In my workplace, we try to be as open and exposed as we can around mental health and the support that is available. We have a Miro board with some basic information around what mental health first aid is, how to contact the first aiders and demystifying the process. This is shared within the organisation on regular occasions. It houses statistics, resources and contact information, helpful tools and any events we are holding. We love to find things that can bring the teams together and ways everyone can get involved — currently we are supporting Movember!
Movember is one of the opportunities throughout the year to showcase the importance of exposure within an organisation. This year we included several of the Movember traditions within the organisation I work for. Including the array of moustaches, walking 60km to represent the 60 men who are taken from us every hour and even virtual pub quizzes! As a mental health first aider, I hosted the first virtual pub quiz — which went better than I could have expected. It seemed to lift everyone’s spirits and de-stress the workplace environment, as well as raising over £1,000 for a great cause.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population with
- One in six of us experiencing a mental health problem in any given week
- Work-related stress already costing Britain 10.4 million working days per year
A Mental Health Foundation survey found:
- More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems
- When working long hours 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious, and 58% irritable
- The more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it
- As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness
- 42% of women and 29% of men report unhappiness, which is probably a consequence of competing life roles and more pressure to ‘juggle’
- Nearly two thirds of employees have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.
Mental health first aid
A mental health first aider in the workplace is the go-to person for anyone who is going through some form of mental health issue. These can be temporary or long-term issues. The first aider will be present to help guide the person in distress to the relevant help that they need.
Increasing people’s awareness of mental health, reducing stigma, and promoting and facilitating early help-seeking are recognised as key strategies for a mentally healthy workplace. Mental ill-health affects just as many people as physical ill-health. In 2018, it was recorded that over 16 million people in the UK had experienced mental illness (that’s one in four people!).
Rebranding mental health
We all know by now how mental health is seen, it’s seen as weakness and/or something that is extreme. The concept of ‘mental health’ only crosses peoples minds when you are looking at mental ill-health. Realistically mental health management is in our day to day living and we all do it without realising. Talking to your friends, having a night in, having a night out, going walking or even spending time with family… whatever your recharge ritual, it has a positive stress-relieving effect on your mental health.
As a mental health first aider, I like to have regular catch-ups with those people who have expressed interest or who benefit from/need the interactions. One of the things that I am trying to translate within my organisation is that I am here not just for when things are at an extreme. Using your mental health first aiders for most people usually means having a coffee and a chat. It’s the idea that you’re ‘putting the world to rights’, just taking some time and having someone there to talk to about anything and everything. This has never been more important than it is right now as everyone is working remotely and can go weeks without a non-work interaction.
Experience is not a diagnosis
It’s important to remember that mental ill-health happens to everyone, but it’s not a diagnosis and it’s not a defining feature. You may have periods of time that are filled with stress, anxiety and depression. This is completely normal and does not mean that you have a condition.
Your stress container
Understanding what causes us stress and taking action to manage our stress levels is a key part of looking after our wellbeing. The Stress Container can help us understand how we experience stress and how to address our stress levels. Give it a try!