Work is one of the main causes of mental health problems; One in three have experienced mental health problems at work with two-thirds of sufferers citing work as a contributing factor. This demonstrates the importance of work culture on our wellbeing, and the changes needed in the workplace to support those who are silently suffering.
Mental health awareness has had a much-needed step-up, but power does not always come with awareness, there is still a course of action that needs to follow, and if the trickles of awareness have yet to see light in your workplace, then it’s time for change.
1. Let’s talk
Despite the increase in mental health awareness, stigma is still entrenched in the workplace. Talking about mental health matters, through talking we can change how people think about mental health and how sufferers deal with it. Talking is important and enlightening, but talking can also be “awkward” in the face of a subject raw and personal to many, yet alien to some others.
A truly open environment at work where employees can feel the confidence to talk about mental health is the mightiest sword against the ignorance and fear that prevents people from seeking the help they need. Fear is a great wall in the battle of mental illness; fear of isolation, fear of being judged, and the fear of intolerance.
Employers should encourage positive rhetoric around mental health by openly talking about their experiences with mental health, and inspire employees to connect with each other by sharing their own stories and quirks around their mental health. This sends a strong message of togetherness, and shows mental illness as a normal human condition, not a sign of weakness.
Mental illness can be isolating, and this loneliness can heighten illness, so let’s tackle mental illness together.
2. Promote a healthy work environment
Our environment plays an important role on our mental health, and fostering healthy well-being at work can prevent problems from escalating. High levels of stress can exacerbate existing mental health problems, so tackling the causes of stress-related problems at work is an important step in prevention. Overworking, excessively exceeding working hours, and skipping break times can all add to stress levels. Employers should establish a healthy balance between work and personal life, avoiding anything that interferes with the boundaries between work and home. Healthy wellbeing benefits everyone at all levels, whether you suffer from mental health or not.
3. Identify mental health problems
Feeling sad, stressed or confused is a normal part of life, but how do you know when it’s a mental health problem? Awareness and understanding is fundamental to identifying mental health. One in four people will suffer from mental health at one time in their life, but many suffer in silence due to the lack of insight into what they are experiencing. This failure to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental illness can lead to years of unnecessary suffering.
If possible, employers should be observant of the early signs of mental illness, which can include:
- Problems with thinking – Memory, concentration or logical thought.
- Uncharacteristic behaviour.
- Drop in functioning – Difficulty performing familiar tasks.
- Mood swings.
- Illogical thinking – Odd beliefs and ideas.
- Social Withdrawal – Loss of interest in others.
- Lethargic – Loss of initiative to participate in any activity.
- Nervousness – Fear or suspiciousness of others.
- Strong feelings of anger.
- Shifts in sleep or appetite.
- Decline in personal care.
Of course these signs can be invisible, and recognising a couple of these symptoms alone does not identify mental illness, however an alertness can be the important nudge towards help.
Employers can also help workers to identify their mental health by encouraging workers to take a quick and confidential online screening. Following the questionnaire, participants will immediately receive their results.
4. Support those experiencing mental health problems.
Employers are not qualified to give advice on mental illness, but understanding, listening, and engaging in effective conversation can help immeasurably. Mental illness is treatable and employers should support and encourage attempts to seek professional help – a chat with the GP is a good start. This should be followed by allowing employees to attend therapy sessions and medical appointments in working hours if needed. Implementing policies that support mental health and treatment can ensure that workers find the help they need.