08 Oct Supporting your team on World Mental Health Day – now and for the future.
This month is World Mental Health Day. For as long as there has been human life, there has been a struggle with mental health. And yet, even in these enlightened times, there’s still such a stigma attached to mental health, to talking about our emotions and being seen to battle with mental health.
According to the CIPD, mental ill health is the single biggest cause of absence in the workplace in 2020 – an issue we all need to sit up and take notice of.
I’ve teamed up with my fabulous colleague, Janice Benning of Neuro Vitality Clinic to explore how employers and managers can take the lead on caring for mental health in the workplace.
The problem with mental health
We all have mental health. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t have it. Mental health is a spectrum and every human being is somewhere on that spectrum. It’s also a fluid thing. Most of us, thankfully, hang around the well end of the spectrum, but that can fluctuate throughout our lives, presenting issues, problems and challenges to overcome.
Problems arise when mental health is ignored, pushed down, belittled or left unspoken.
According to the World Health Organisation, bad mental health costs the global economy somewhere in the region of £1trillion US dollars in lost productivity, every year. This is not a trivial issue that can be swept under the carpet.
And with a global pandemic happening, the outlook on mental health is worse than ever before, with almost one in five adults in the UK now experiencing some form of depression in June 2020 – that’s almost double the figure from before the pandemic hit.
“It’s really important to look at prevention, not just the cure,” explains Janice. “If you keep your team mentally well, productivity goes up. If it goes down, everything starts to struggle. It’s an investment that’s absolutely worth making.”
Janice believes it’s more crucial than ever for us to be creating open conversations about mental health at work. It’s understandable that people are nervous about starting a conversation about it because there’s still so much stigma surrounding the issue. There’s worry that talking about it will make a problem worse, or that the sufferer may say something wrong. This leads to the person keeping quiet, struggling on and potentially harming their mental health and their productivity even more.
How to tackle mental health issues in the workplace
Dealing with mental health issues is all about giving everyone the space and security to talk about what’s bothering them. Talking about mental health issues is the first and biggest step to helping to deal with it. Creating an open culture around the issue will encourage everyone to speak out when they’re suffering, which in turn helps other people feel safe to do so.
“The organisations I work with that have the most impact are those taking a multi-faceted approach to mental health,” continues Janice. “They’ll have Mental Health First aiders, who are a great point of support, but they’ll also be educating and training their managers on how to spot red flags in their team and, most importantly, how to start the conversations. They’ll also often have an Employee Assistance Programme that employees can use to speak to someone confidentially. But what they do really well is create space for conversations. Which is free!”
Educating leaders, managers and business owners in the nuances of mental health is the most positive thing any business can do. Once a manager or team leader is aware of the importance of tackling mental health issues, the culture of openness is already underway.
Everyone in a business must take responsibility for everyone’s mental health. It’s crucial to speak out when you see someone struggling so that problems can be dealt with and improvements made.
“When a senior manager shares any troubles they’ve experienced with mental health, I see this opening the conversations around the business,” says Janice. “The people I know who have done this have been pleasantly surprised at the positive responses they’ve received.’
The steps to take in the workplace
- Train up and assign the role of mental health first aider within your team – trained MH first aiders can spot the early signs of bad mental health and step in early to avoid problems further down the line.
- Train managers to spot the early signs of mental ill health and have conversations with team members.
- Educate your team in general health and wellbeing to encourage healthier lifestyles which will, in turn, help with mental health too.
- Open up communication channels in all directions – encourage managers and leaders to be open about their own mental health.
- Encourage adaptive rather than maladaptive strategies for coping with stress and anxiety – women are more likely to be adaptive (open to talking about their issues) than men, who tend to adopt maladaptive coping strategies such as drinking, gambling or taking drugs to escape problems.
As a personal aside, I tend to start catastrophising when I’m struggling to cope. The language I use every day becomes urgent and negative. For example, I’ll say ‘There isn’t time’ or ‘I need to do…’ and refer to things ‘always’ happening. This is my early indicator that I’m starting to suffer mentally. However, I don’t always spot these signs myself. I know they happen because I’ve recognised them after the event, but having a conversation with my husband about the kind of things to look out for has enabled him to step in when he hears me talking like that. Similarly, we’ve discussed his red flags for struggling so we can both help each other at the early warning signs.
“We need to encourage our people to take ownership of their own mental health,” concludes Janice. “We need to have open conversations about what we need and what we’re going to do to support ourselves. If we leave it until people are mentally unwell this has a huge cost to the business and to the people around the individual is unwell.”
If you or your team need support to encourage an open culture around mental health, contact Ambient Tribe today.