World Mental Health Day: what small step can you take?

Are you an employer or have responsibility for managing others in an organisation? If that’s the case, this is for you.

No doubt you are aware of the rise in mental health issues in the workplace which was already on the increase and now exacerbated by the pandemic. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, just this week have expressed concern that as a nation we might be heading for a pandemic with mental health problems due to a shortage of service.

Here are some facts about mental health and why I am calling you to action:

Positive mental health is directly linked to better performance, improved productivity and long-term sustainability.

The cost of mental illness to your organisation, the individual, their family and the community as whole is huge and in the wake of the pandemic could be another global public health challenge, yet the cost of preventative actions is minimal in comparison. Supporting your workforce’s mental wellbeing makes so much sense.

Like Covid-19, mental ill health can affect anyone in the organisation from the business owner to frontline. It does not discriminate and knows no bounds. Research shows mental ill health is a leading cause of sickness in the UK and employers spend on average £1035 per employee a year as a result. This figure has probably gone up during the pandemic so this is an issue not to be ignored. Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK and £21.2billion is lost through reduced productivity each year. Once diagnosed with a mental health problem, it can take a long time to access appropriate professional help.

This year we all have been challenged in different ways from the way we do shopping, connect with each other, work and travel. We are all having to adjust so we can lead fulfilling lives in this new normal. This why it is even more important that promoting positive mental health should be on the agenda of every family, organisation and government policies.

As human beings we are so adaptable and with the right support we can reach our potential despite our circumstances. We learn to cope and live differently but it all starts with the awareness of knowing ourselves in terms of our physical, mental and social health. What do we consider normal and acceptable for us and what is not?

Positive progress worth noting

I was most encouraged by three most recent reports that demonstrates how much as a nation we are becoming more open about mental health and factors that contribute to poor mental health in our communities and places of work. On 21 October this year MHFA England launches the My Whole Self campaign, which calls on employers in workplaces to build cultures that are inclusive and where people feel valued and safe. This acknowledges that as individuals we are all unique with different capabilities, values, believes and different life journeys which gives us our own unique perspective of the environment we live and work and how we relate to it. It is therefore crucial and critical that we all take efforts to really listen and understand where people are coming from; and seeing things from their lens not ours in order to support them well.

Another significant report that has been launched this year by the Business in the Community is Race at work: Black Voices Report. This report disclosed the disparity in the way black and ethnic minority people are treated and barriers they face in their career advancement compared to their white counterparts. These developments help us as nations to begin to change our mindsets around those issues that hinders people around us to experience positive mental wellbeing and reach their potential.

Having said that, it is also encouraging to see the great work many organisations have taken since the pandemic in order to promote the workplace mental well-being. 0n 5 October Bupa UK and Business in the Community launched a report on a recent Mental health at Work study. This report also highlights the positive change in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace in the last 5years.

The report found out that the sources of workplace stress in 2020 came from work pressures, new ways of working, isolation from colleagues and the growing uncertainty of the future due to the on-going pandemic. This constituted 51% of poor health caused by work this year. On a positive note while this is the case, the number of employees who felt their organisation support their mental health was found to have gone up from 55% in 2019 to 63% in 2020. 58% of workers said they felt supported by their line managers and they were well communicated with during the pandemic

Other notable findings from this report were:

  • 41% of employees experienced poor mental health in 2020 compared to 39%
  • 35% of the reported mental health symptoms related to workload, long hours and not taking enough leave.
  • 30% (3 in 10 people) affected by poor mental health stated they did not tell anyone about their symptoms and this figure was up this year compared to 27% in 2019.
  • 35% of men and 26% of women reported keeping their mental health symptoms to themselves.

While there is so much progress happening around us regarding mental health more is still needs to be done in particular around supporting those people in the organisations that feel unable to talk to someone about what’s going on with them.

Mental health First Aid teaches people how to spot signs of poor mental health and to take early action in supporting that individual. This has had significant positive impact on awareness raising across the nation.

With increased challenges caused by the pandemic and more people being negatively affected in one way or another, organisations need to think outside the box in their efforts to create inclusive supportive environments which support all employees to manage the trauma caused by the pandemic, on-going changes and future uncertainties.

The complexities caused by the pandemic calls for a multi-faceted and employee well-being focused approaches which help people gain knowledge about well-being in general, good mental health, poor mental health, early warning signs of poor mental health, support systems and services available, factors in the work environment that hinders or enhances mental well-being and internal and external services to support employee mental wellbeing.

Mental health conversation facilitation with an outside facilitator is a great way of enabling those individuals that may find it difficult to talk with someone in the organisation. It works well both for individuals and for groups of people. It can be done in-person or virtually. Group facilitation is common and widely used in clinical settings. It can be used for emotional support and also increase knowledge on different issues that are current and real in people’s lives. I believe organisations will need to look to healthcare professionals with mental health clinical expertise to be part of their mental health promotion and preventative strategies to support them with some of the more complex issues which Mental Health First Aid and Psychological First Aid interventions can not address.

Here are some of the small steps you can take if you are not doing that already

  • Get trained in mental health awareness and compassionate leadership skills so you know what to look for in yourself and those around you.
  • Have informal and formal chats with your workforce to understand what matters to them.
  • Get an outside facilitator to help those who find it difficult to open up. These conversations are confidential.
  • Awareness education starts now. Below is some information that can you help you. Awareness is not only about mental health but also about what you can do and what other organisations are doing, what’s working and not working, where can you get resources.

References and useful resources

www.mentalhealth.org.uk http://www.bupa.com/newsroom/our-views/bitc-mental-health-at-work-20

www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self

mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/resources

www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-talk-day/resources-your-event.

Daisy Mupfumira is a Workplace Mental Health Practitioner and Trainer who believes we can create supportive environments where people can thrive despite the challenging environments that they may find themselves in. Environments where they can freely talk about concerns that might be impacting their health and well-being and their performance. Having experienced the negative impact of poor mental health personally and in her role as mental health practitioner, she is passionate about sharing her clinical and lived experiences by supporting organisations create mentally healthy workplace cultures through mental health awareness education, skills enhancement and mental health conversations facilitation.

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