Mental Health in the Workplace

Today marks World Mental Health Day 2018, in association with the World Health Organisation. Samantha Cooke, our Learning and Development Manager, took some time to write her thoughts on how mental health affects individuals in the workplace.

In 2018, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conducted a survey with 6000 workers across different sectors to look at the 7 dimensions of job quality, and satisfaction and what businesses can do to improve this.

Within these results, under mental health, it was found that 44% of workers said work has a positive impact on their mental health, but 55% said they feel they are under excessive pressure, exhausted or regularly miserable at work.

It goes without saying that people who feel good about themselves work more productively, interact with colleagues and make valuable contributions to the workplace. But when a person is going through mental ill health, it can have a different impact on an organisation.

What is mental health?

We can all easily recognise our own physical wellbeing. We know when we have a cold, a stomach bug or have broken a bone, but why is it so hard to identify or even admit that our mental health is not as strong?

‘Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’ – The World Health Organisation.

Just as much as our physical health fluctuates throughout our life, so does our mental health, and as one wise person once told me “if you have a cold you take some lemsip and rest, so why can’t you look after yourself when you are mentally feeling low?”

Now, I know it would be so much easier to treat mental health the same way you would a cold with some lemsip and an early night. In all honestly, it’s much harder and takes longer. However, the results of improvement are so beneficial and not just for the individual, but for the business too.

In 2011, the Department of Health issued a powerful statement saying “there is no health without mental health”.

Mental ill health can range from anxiety and depression (the most common mental health conditions) to severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and people with the same mental health conditions can be very different with their experiences of signs, symptoms and treatments.

Signs of mental health conditions

You would hope this would be as easy to spot as someone walking around with a broken leg. You would hope you can see someone is not mentally healthy by their runny nose or croaky voice as you would a cold, but in reality it is a bit trickier.

Many people facing mental health will walk through life with a smile plastered on their face whilst internally feel like they are crumbling. A simple task provided to a person can cause so many unhelpful thoughts that trigger the symptoms of their poor mental health.

For instance, an individual in the workplace has been provided a task to do a brief in front of a group of people. For some, they might use the feelings generated from this task to motivate and drive them to strive. However, for a person going through anxiety, this could be harder, as the many unhelpful thoughts spiral through their mind:

“how am I going to mess this up?….what if I just say horrible things?….I don’t want to do that……..but what if it happens anyway?…….what if everyone’s just being nice to me?…..and they secretly hate me?…..what if everything I say is wrong?…..”

These thoughts can continue to spiral and before the person knows it, they are panicking about something that has not yet happened and most likely not going to happen, and could potentially lead on to panic attacks.

So how do you spot signs of this mental health condition or other conditions, if the person just keeps saying “I’m ok” and that smile gets bigger?

The charity Mind outlines further information on the signs for an array of mental health conditions, but a recent CIPD study found that due to the impact of mental ill health:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

It is so important for workplaces to look out for signs and spot these as early as they can for early intervention.

However, when the signs are spotted, a workplace should not advise on what a person should do as they are rarely qualified to do so.

Talking about mental health

For some people, the thought of talking about how they are feeling can come quite easy and natural.

However, for some, it can be the hardest thing in the world and sadly this is potentially down to the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

It can simply be easier for a person to plaster that smile on their face and say “yeah I’m fine” when asked if they are ok, but inside the person is just crumbling and going through their day to day life as if they are walking through 5 foot of treacle where every step is just as hard as the last.

In today’s society, there is more awareness on mental health, but why is it hard to talk to your workplace about mental health?

When the charity Heads Together launched their ‘Mental Health at Work’ initiative (in partnership with Mind), Prince William stated within his speech “if we are going to improve the mental health of our nation, we need to improve things at work. People spend more time there than almost anywhere else, but research shows that it’s also the place where people are least comfortable talking about mental health.”

Mind says that around 300,000 people lose their job each year due to a mental health problems, and with this statistic, can people be blamed for being a bit fearful?

Dealing with mental health is difficult as it is, so employers should not make it harder for a person by not being approachable or shame them for feeling that way.

There are so many initiatives and options workplaces can now take and do to help and support their employees.

At BW Legal, we are taking an active approach to ensure the wellbeing of our employees is paramount. Having in place a Mental Health policy within the workplace accessible to all, providing flexible support during difficult times, reviewing workloads and actively listening to their needs to support a person to help them stay in work.

We also work with Health Assured to provide free additional support to employees with a variety of options including action plans, videos and helpful guides.

Within Health Assured, there is also a free employee assistance line which provides confidential third party advice and support on multiple requirements, not just health. They also include up to 8 counselling sessions which can be utilised over the phone or face to face, all available 24/7 throughout the year.

We signpost any employee in need to a fast and direct website called ‘Moodjuice’ where they are able to access free self-help care guides on areas such as depression, anxiety, panic, bereavement, stress, PTSD and more.

We are committed to do more and improve ourselves further.

We are enlisting support from external sources to train up to 34 of our management team on Mental Health in the Workplace, providing the skills our managers, seniors and team leaders need to gain more confidence in talking to employees about these sensitive subjects. Gaining wider knowledge on how it can affect people and knowing the signs and being brave to step up and ask “is everything ok?”

“Encouraging people to talk about their own mental health is the most important step to creating a culture where it feels OK to be open about an issue that affects 10 million people each year. Workplaces also need to make adequate provision for employees who are experiencing a mental health issue so that they feel able to seek support if and when they need it”

– Poppy Jaman, CEO Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

As such, we recognise this that it’s not only our management team we need to encourage to do more, but also our employees. We are upskilling 10 employees within the business to attend external Mental Health First Aid Training to gain skills on how to provide first aid skills on multiple areas such as for anxiety disorders, traumatic events, self-harm, suicide and the Mental First Aid action plan.

With anything, your time, compassion, empathy and patience can be the difference for an employee going through mental ill health, not just the additional support networks.

It is the greatest step a person can take to say that they are needing support to improve their mental health, and even though it is the person’s responsibility to take the steps to speak up and improve their mental health in a way that works for them, a good employer can assist in managing this along with signposting and assisting.

The more we push ourselves to understand and learn more about mental health, the more we know how to effectively support one another and our own well-being and break down the stigma of mental health.

For anyone wishing to find out anything further on Mental Health, there are a multitude of charity organisations within the UK such as; Mind, Samaritans, CALM, Mental Health Foundation or SANE.

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