Good mental health is as important as good physical health, however, the mental state of the nation and the workplace is currently unwell.
If you break a bone, there is no stigma attached to getting it mended and the same should apply to looking after your mental health. We are conditioned to believe that a mental illness is a sign of weakness when, in fact, people who live with a mental illness have to sometimes summon great strength in order to navigate their daily lives and responsibilities.
This is never truer than when it comes to the workplace. People put themselves under great pressure to hide their mental state to colleagues and bosses with 37% of people believing that if they disclose their mental illness, they will be seen as unstable or unreliable which, they believe, could have a detrimental impact on their career.
When it comes to the mental state of the workplace, 60% of people think that their companies don’t care at all and 70% of people said that when there is help available they don’t know how to access it. The message this sends is that mental health just isn’t a priority in a lot of companies and although some do have support in place, without knowing how to access it, it could be seen to be more of a box-ticking exercise rather than a genuine offer of support.
All companies, big or small, need to factor in some sort of provision for their employee’s mental health. This not only shows your employees that they are valuable but in the long run maintaining good mental health among employees will generate better productivity due to less sick days as well as creating a caring ethos across the company making it a more vibrant and enjoyable place to work.
According to the ONS (Office of National Statistics) in 2022 the number of sick days across the UK attributed to mental health conditions was 14.6 million and it has continuously appeared in the top five reasons for days off sick since 2014. By allowing mental health issues to be recognised and treated the number of sick days could be significantly reduced.
It is encouraging to know that companies are starting to put things in place for their employee’s mental state but much more needs to be done to make people feel encouraged to take up the offer.
It is going to take time to break down the stigmas that have been associated with getting help with mental health illnesses and to do this the people in positions of influence i.e. managers, directors, CEO’s etc need to be the ones sending a clear message to their employees and the message needs to be;
“We value you as a person and your mental health is important.”
“We all have moments in our life when we need a little extra support and that’s OK.”
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of strength.”
“We will support you; we won’t judge you.”
“You won’t lose your job/miss out on the promotion just because you ask for help with a mental illness.”
How to get the message out there:
This has to be done loudly and continuously. It isn’t enough to state it in the small print of a contract and hope that everyone gets the message. People need encouragement and often need to hear the message several times before they take up the offer or feel comfortable enough to seek the help they need. It can take some people a long time even after they know they need help to actually muster the courage to go and find it. Statements, like the ones above, can be displayed across the company e.g. in communal areas, in toilets, anywhere employees will see them with clear information on what help is available and how to access it.
Positive actions that companies can take:
Companies could organise external mental health associations/charities/services to come in and talk about mental health and its importance. They could offer incentives for people to attend these lectures or make them compulsory – this will show that you consider this as important as their job. Any such event should not be scheduled during lunch breaks or any time considered personal time i.e. after the working day.
Often people feel more comfortable opening up and asking for help if they know that they aren’t the only ones struggling with something. It might help if people could anonymously share their experiences with their own mental health struggles to help encourage others to get help. This could be done with promotional material on notice boards or on the company intranet.
If there is a company intranet promote events such as Mental Health Awareness Week with links to places to get help and encourage their employees to check in with co-workers who they think might be struggling with something.
Bosses could offer an open-door policy or team building activities where looking after your mental health is openly talked about and encouraged. If you have the budget there are a range of companies who can create bespoke team building days or you can look at organising them yourself. There are lots of different ideas online for activities that promote good mental health.
Larger companies could offer free sessions with in-house therapists, who would either have a permanent position (depending on the size of the company) or would be available on specific days of the week who employees can book easily and anonymously. Employees need to feel that they won’t be penalised for taking time out of their day to work on their mental health.
Companies, that have space, can create comfortable breakout areas to actively encourage breaks. As a boss, if you notice that someone working for you isn’t taking lunch every day, find out why. Are they overworked/overwhelmed/under pressure? When you find out the answer take positive steps to change their situation for the better. Showing compassion and understanding rather than ignoring what is going on will bolster the team dynamic.
Burnout is real.
Extreme stress, if left unrecognised and untreated can result in burnout which is devastating on your mental and physical health. Burnout occurs when people are under extreme pressure and stress from prolonged periods of time which means by the time the symptoms start to show that person is in very poor mental health.
Some symptoms of burnout are;
• Lack of concentration
• Lack of appetite
• No interest in your job/lack of productivity
• Feelings of self-doubt/failure
Burnout is usually job related but if left untreated these feelings can start to seep into all aspects of life, triggering anxiety and depression.
The mental state of the nation is being spoken about much more widely in society these days, especially in the younger generations, but there are still lots of people living with the old ideas that you mustn’t talk about your problems and to always appear as if “everything is fine”. The only way that this changes is if the people who are running the companies are the ones saying that it’s ok to talk and, importantly, not just saying it but actually encouraging it and recognising when someone is struggling.
If a manager thinks that one of their employees may be struggling with something or suffering from burnout they need to, discreetly and empathically talk to that person. Check in with them, ask them if they are OK. This small interaction shows that you care but more importantly it shows your employee that it’s OK to talk. They may or may not chose to share what they are going through but the message is “I’ve noticed you and I care about you”. If they don’t want to talk to you, ask them if they are aware of the help that the company offers (assuming the company has a mental health policy in place) and reassure them that they are supported.
For many people, our lives are busy and all-consuming and other people’s problems go unnoticed or ignored but when we take a moment to connect on a human level it reminds us that we all have good days and bad days and that is what makes us human. When you offer kindness and support to someone in need, it is more likely to come back to you when you need it and we could all do with a bit more human kindness in the world.
Consider the benefits of therapy
Organisations, such as TherapyFinders, have been set up with the sole intention of getting people the help they need quickly and effectively. Finding the right therapist could be the key to a successful journey through therapy, however, finding the right person can often be a daunting task. There are tools out there to help individuals in this process and ultimately support the mental state of the nation.
Claire is a fully qualified counsellor with over six years experience in private therapy. Whilst working in the industry Claire realised that with an abundance of therapists to choose from, finding the right one often seemed like an impossible and daunting task. TherapyFinders has been set up to make that all-important first step as easy as possible so that those looking for help find the support they need quickly but more importantly with the right person.