More than a quick chat – Why we need to talk about mental health in the workplace
Let me start this article with a rather sobering and startling fact. Did you know that in any given week 1 in 6 people in England are likely to be experiencing some form of mental health problem?
Surprised? I certainly was. We are talking about a range of issues here from psychosis through to more common problems such as anxiety. The point here though is not how debilitating the problem or how clear it is that someone is suffering, it is how common a mental health problem can be.
Now think about the workforce of a business, and you soon gain some perspective just what that means in terms of the vast number of people who are dealing with their mental health issues on a daily basis.
Mental health is not something we should be ignoring
Mental health is not something we should be ignoring, and we all know this, but still, there is often little thought about it in the workplace. In fairness, this is understandable because it is often an invisible illness. If you suffer from hay fever, your symptoms are clear and present, and you will get sympathy and offers of tissues left, right and centre. Suffer from anxiety, and few people will notice.
It is important that the workplace is as tolerant and as understanding as it would be about any other illness though because just like every other illness, someone is suffering. The problem is that there a long-standing and frankly infuriating culture of silence around mental health issues. We grew up with the stiff upper lip, ‘get up and get in with it’ culture that really doesn’t help.
As with any other medical condition, apart from a few very specific conditions, it is up to the individual whether they want a mental health problem known. However, most employers will happily make reasonable adjustments for any medical requirements their employees may have. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable for an employee to ask for a condition to be considered in their workplace.
Someone has got to start the discussion
A great place to start is by starting the conversation. It is hard to break through the reluctance to discuss it that surrounds mental health, but someone has got to start the discussion.
- Proactively promote mental health awareness in your other healthy workplace activities
- Have a fixed mental health policy and make it available to everyone
- It may be better not to focus on the words mental health outside the requirement of legal or other reasons. The danger here is that it could promote an unhealthy focus on problems and it has a lot of additional unwanted baggage. Mental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing and similar are much less aggressive terms
- Stress and fatigue are often triggers or precursors to more difficult problems. Concentrate on a healthy work-life balance
- Exercise and relaxing activities are all thought to help reduce the effects of mild depression and anxiety symptoms
- Mindfulness, yoga and many other activities are easy to arrange and can really help
- Trust and openness are important
- Focus on what can be done to help, not what cannot be done because of the mental well being issue. Stay positive and look for resolutions
Mental well being issues are not limited to any group of people or personality type, and not only do people suffer but they also cost industry around 91 million working days a year – more than any other illness.
For the sake of the employee and the employer, it seems obvious that it is time to find more ways to talk.
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