This is Mental Health Awareness week which many workplaces across the country will be marking in some way. There has been huge progress in the subject of mental health in recent years, enabling sufferers of anxiety, depression, stress and other debilitating conditions to be more open and receive adequate support.
However, stigma relating to mental ill health remains an issue, with sufferers struggling to hold down jobs through a lack of understanding of the support required. There is a long way to go before someone struggling with depression is given the same level of consideration as someone with cancer or a broken leg.
We still hear sufferers of depression told to ‘Pull yourself together, just get on with it’. The same person with a physical illness is given time off and if necessary, adjustments made to help them return to work.
Recently, it has been suggested that there is a clear link between mental and physical health, and that those in a positive mental space either don’t get as sick physically or recover quicker. It’s also suggested that low mental health can lead to poor physical health which seems very likely. So it’s in an employers interest to protect the mental and physical health of their workforce.
As an employer, there are some simple steps to making your organisation more supportive for people struggling with mental ill health.
- Make mental health integral to your Health and Safety Agenda. In Risk Assessments, consider aspects of your working environment that could be hazardous to mental health – poor working accommodation, excessive noise, low levels of natural light and inadequate rest areas are some of the key issues to consider.
- Ensure that all Board Members and Senior Management sign up to a positive approach to mental health
- Have a team of trained Mental Health First Aiders in the same way as you do physical First Aiders
- Include mental health training into inductions and annual training, ensuring that everyone is aware of their own health needs and those of their colleagues. This will make them more alert to those struggling around them.
- Ensure supervisors and managers are proactively monitoring their teams for signs of stress, not coping or negative behaviour changes. Encourage them to instigate conversations around this, or where they don’t feel able, alert someone who can.
- Strongly encourage regular breaks during the working day and a good work/life balance – lead by example!
- Treat your employees as individuals – each will have a different requirement for support if they are struggling with their mental health. This could be time off, it could be moving to a different role for a short period of time or it could be some counselling or training.
- Provide opportunities for employees to talk confidentially to someone. It may be they don’t need counselling, just someone who will listen and help them work through their issues – Samaritans offer some great training to help people listen in a confidential, non-judgemental and supportive way.
- Encourage employees to be open about their mental health if they feel comfortable. Hearing others stories can give people permission to be open and admit their struggles.
Help is out there
These are just a few pointers – there is excellent help both for employers and people struggling with their mental health. Where employers focus on the positive benefits of employing people with mental health issues, they frequently benefit by having a more loyal, productive and engaged team. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace make for a much richer and more sustainable team.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, take a good look at your workplace, are you doing enough to support your team, and if you are, are you telling your customers about this good work? Your reputation as a good employer is an increasingly important weapon in your marketplace – make sure it’s working for you.