How to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

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Earlier this month, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its annual report, which found that work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health – equating to 15.4 million days in 2017/18. While this is a huge blow to the economy, it’s also a stark reminder that mental health in the workplace is a major issue that needs to be addressed by organisations and individuals alike.

For most of us, the workplace is where we spend a lot of our time – and it can have a hugely positive effect on our mental wellbeing, providing a source of income, a sense of identity, a steady routine and somewhere to connect and develop friendships with others.

However, life can sometimes get in the way of these beneficial aspects. Whether it’s because of work-related stress, relationships, ill health or other circumstances, as many as one in six people experience symptoms of a mental health problem in any given week.

As an employer or employee, it’s vital that companies take active steps to address mental health issues and support those suffering or at risk. So what can you do to help?

Understand what mental health problems are

Research from mental health charity Mind has shown that 56% of employers would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing, but say they don’t feel they have the right training or guidance. It can be difficult to know where to start, or even spot if you’re experiencing a mental health problem yourself, as there are so many symptoms and signs.

The Mental Health Foundation offers this guidance on how to recognise if you have a mental health problem:

As a rule, you should seek help from your GP if you have difficult feelings that are:

  •  stopping you from getting on with life
  •  having a big impact on the people you live or work with
  •  affecting your mood over several weeks
  •  causing you to have thoughts of suicide

At work, we might notice that we:

  • are more tired than usual
  • make uncharacteristic mistakes
  • find it hard to motivate ourselves
  • isolate ourselves
  • take on more work than we can manage

Sometimes, these early warning signs can be hard to notice in yourself or others, which is why it’s important that we learn to recognise them. While awareness is increasing, there is still discrimination and stigmatism associated with mental health that makes people keep their feelings hidden.

Start a conversation about mental health

Ideally, we want to create a workplace that allows people to be themselves and speak freely about how they feel and if they are struggling. But just under half of workers wouldn’t be comfortable disclosing a mental health issue at work, and it’s been suggested that 95% of employees who call in sick with stress give a different reason for needing time off.

Simply asking if someone is okay is a good start but, as mental health discrimination initiative Time to Change points out in its Ask Twice campaign, we have a tendency to say we’re fine, even if we’re not. Asking again, will hopefully encourage them to open up. Time to Change also offers five simple steps on how to support someone if they do open up:

  1. Take it seriously – don’t treat it like a joke or dismiss what they say.

  2. Listen and reflect – you don’t necessarily need to have the answer to their problems.

  3. Ask questions – by keeping the conversation going, it shows you care.

  4. Don’t try and fix it – active listening often helps people talk through their problems.

  5. Build your knowledge – find out what help is available and read stories about others’ experience.

This helps on a smaller scale, but to have a bigger impact, much wider organisational goals and objectives need to be implemented to tackle mental health stigma and provide a structure of guaranteed support.

Practical steps to promote mental well-being:

Ahead of the legality of mental health discrimination and support, there are some practical steps that an organisation can take to help promote mental well-being:

  • Make a commitment to treat mental health as a fundamental part of the business and develop a mental health strategy (if you’re not in a position to do this, speak to higher management)

  • Introduce a dedicated counselling service or helpline for mental health issues

  • Provide training on mental health issues and appoint a designated mental health first aider or officer

  • Assess the risks of workplace stress and find ways how to reduce them

  • Use positive language

  • Seek resources and advice from charities like Mind

  • Join initiatives like Time to Change

  • Understand how reasonable adjustments can be made to support someone such as flexible working hours, remote work, small adaptations to their work environment and time off for appointments

  • Advocate lunch breaks away from desks, or even introduce walking meetings!

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Image Source: Unsplash

What’s next?

In recent years, the issue of mental illness in the workplace has gained more attention, with political parties stepping in to address it. In 2017, the Conservative general election manifesto aimed “to transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace.” An independent review was released later in the year –  Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers – which sets out what employers can do to better support employees.

They call for all employers, regardless of size or industry, to adopt six ‘core standards’ that lay basic foundations for an approach to mental health in the workplace. Proposed initiatives include mental health at work plans, awareness for employees, line management responsibilities and routine monitoring of staff wellbeing.

This kind of formalised structure could transform the day-to-day response to and management of mental health in the workplace – but whether it ever becomes required by law is another question.

Something your organisation can proactively take part in is Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, which seeks to benchmark best policy and practice, while analysing where you’re doing well and how you could improve your approach moving forward.

For more inspiration on how to inspire a healthy workplace, check out our blog on some of the best employee wellness trends from around the world.

 Header Image Source: Pexels

Workplace Trends Health & Wellness

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