In recent months Mental Health has become headline news. It’s become a government initiative, a hot topic in the media and a subject that many find hard to address, especially in the workplace.
A recent independent review, aptly named ‘Thriving at work’ was commissioned by Theresa May, to take an in-depth look at the issue of mental health and employers in Britain. The authors of the review, Stevenson and Farmer, believe that if the UK prioritized mental health at work
“We can become global leaders in reducing stigma, improving the mental health of the population and support those who need it, and in the process, improve the UK’s productivity.”
Their vision, which they believe to be a realistic one, is profound. It challenges not only the government but every employer in the land to stand up, educate themselves and begin tackling the issue of mental health in the workplace.
However, we need to address one crucial point from the beginning:
Why is it that when raising the issue of mental health, we generally assume we are talking about poor mental health?
We all have mental health, just as we have physical health, so it’s essential to be clear about your definitions of mental health from the outset.
What would happen if we flipped it on its head and started with a discussion about good mental health?
When we think about good mental health, doesn’t it become easier to discuss? Aren’t we more comfortable talking about things that are positive rather than negative? There’s no stigma about good mental health, so it’s an open conversation in which many more people are willing to participate.
So, let’s start at the beginning and talk about good mental health; what it looks like, how to support it, and how to maintain it in the workplace. We can then begin to move the conversation forward. We need to focus on becoming aware of our feelings, taking responsibility for our mental health and recognizing the signs of struggle in those around us.
The 3 Stages of Mental Health
What can we do to manage and support each stage to promote improvement and prevent deterioration?
- Thriving: The World Health Organization defines ‘good mental health’ as “A state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and can make a contribution to his or her community.”
Ideas to Support: Firstly, we need to start talking about good mental health. Understanding how we can achieve and maintain it is the best way to ensure employees that are feeling well are aware of your support as an employer in maintaining it. Building preventative measures into your training programs and company culture will significantly impact your business in a positive way.
Building resilience is a fundamental tool for enabling people to cope with the pressures and stresses of the workplace. The quicker an individual can ‘bounce back’ from setbacks or problems at work, the stronger they will become. It’s an effective prevention strategy that strengthens coping mechanisms in the individual while significantly impacting the resilience of your business.
Secondly, we regularly spend most days at work then ‘Good Work’ is undoubtedly a key component to good mental health. Initiate, regular reviews of your working practice in your mental health strategy. Begin by looking at job design, fair pay, work-life balance and the absence of bullying and harassment.
- Struggling: This is the when there’s a decline in good mental health or conversely an improvement in poor mental health. It’s a place where intervention can make the most impact and generate the most significant response to treatment and support.
Ideas to Support: Stepping in at this point needs to be both sensitive yet firm. Begin by understanding the cause of the issue and address it at that level. Does the individual need 1:1 support, do they need reduced hours/responsibility while managing difficult things at home?
Early intervention is critical as well as finding the right support for the individual. It can make the difference between an improvement or further deterioration. Creating transparent procedures to follow, will introduce the individual suffering to a step by step path to recovery with the help and guidance they need to get better.
- Unwell: Poor mental health has a broad spectrum. It can be anything from common mental health issues to severe mental illness.
Ideas to Support: Recognizing the signs is critical if help is to have any impact at this stage. Often by this point, an employee will have hidden their poor mental health as best they can for fear of discrimination.
Begin by creating a workplace culture which openly talks about mental health. Then start to implement support and training programs that offer encouragement and reassurance alongside practical steps that can make a difference.
Offering internal and external support in the workplace, along with regular training and talks, employees can begin to realize there is a way back for them.
With over 300,000 people with long term mental health conditions leaving employment every year, something must change. Addressing the elephant in the room and bringing the issue out into the open needs to start now.
So, what’s the problem?
While employers are willing to do the right thing and develop wellbeing strategies and policies, there is a considerable amount of substance missing. Line managers and middle management lack training and confidence, burying their heads in the sand for fear of making the situation worse.
Prevention is better than cure, and the truth has never been more so than for mental health. Let’s begin now by talking, training, understanding and sharing our thoughts, experiences and knowledge on mental health issues. Education and training are the key to a long-term solution. You can start by creating a workforce that supports one another, employees that are aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and that understand the importance of good mental health.
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