You can’t turn on the television or scroll through Facebook these days without the topic of mental health being featured. Whether the focus is NHS funding or our young royals doing their bit to help reduce stigma, it is everywhere. We know that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime, whilst recent research suggests that as many as 77% of employees said they had experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives (Mental Health at Work Report, 2016).
‘The Invisible Illness’
Even if you don’t personally suffer, you are likely to know someone who has suffered or is continuing to manage a mental health condition. You might know that someone from Accounts broke his leg last year, but you may not know that the colleague next to you is living with chronic depression. Dubbed ‘the invisible illness’, the inner distress experienced by millions is often hard to recognise or identify. It can also be extremely hard for people to share their mental health diagnosis for fear of assumptions being made about their ability to function normally. Many celebrities and sports personalities have been open about their own mental health journeys. Whilst this has been a very positive step towards reducing stigma, what can we all do? The reality is that mental health problems remain the most common reason for work absence and costs UK industry billions of pounds per year. Whether your interest is humanitarian, financial, or strategic, ignoring this may come at a huge cost to your organisation.
So, what do we mean by a mental health problem?
We all have ‘mental health’, but we use the term to describe many illnesses, from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders and psychosis. Feeling low, stressed out, or having a bad day will happen to us all at times, but if these feelings last for two weeks or more, or start to impact significantly on our behaviour, this might be a sign that we are suffering from a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. Because these experiences can creep up slowly, it can be hard to notice these changes in ourselves. Stigma and lack of education mean that individuals who are suffering might be more likely to talk about feeling ‘worn out’ or ‘stressed’ than to name their experiences as ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’.
Some early warning signs of anxiety or depression to look out for in yourself or others might include:
- Finding it hard to get to sleep or sleeping more than usual
- Feeling tired, with trouble concentrating
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Change in appetite
- Socially withdrawing
- Feeling low or helpless
So what can YOU do?
Often, employees do not access the help they need and managers remain in the dark about what they can do to assist. A multi-faceted approach to managing mental health in the workplace is essential. This doesn’t have to be expensive if the following objectives can be met:
- Having strong leadership at every level around mental health, where openness is promoted and encouraged.
- Providing line managers with training on how to talk to their staff about their general wellbeing, including their mental health. The majority of line managers believe wellbeing is part of their role, yet only 22% have received some form of training (Mental Health at Work Report, 2016).
- Having robust policies regarding supervision, line-management, bullying and harassment.
- Providing educational workshops and alternative therapies for staff.
- Ensuring the Employee Assistant Programme is effective.
Below are some tips that we can all keep in mind to help someone who may be struggling:
- Let people know that you are there if they need to talk. 30% of staff interviewed by the charity Mind disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’.
- Don’t judge.
- Encourage them to do something nice for themselves. Regular exercise, diet and pleasurable activities can all help to ease low mood.
- Stay in touch. People who experience mental health problems often become withdrawn and feel isolated.
Wellbeing and Mental Health Interventions
Many organisations invest in mental health and wellbeing programmes for staff and this is on the increase. These might include lunchtime workshops for staff on stress management, mindfulness groups, or access to 1:1 help when needed. Innovations such as these can serve both to prevent and promote good mental wellbeing in staff as well as ensuring that individuals have access to the support that they need when necessary. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and whatever steps your organisation takes, it is crucial that we work together to stop people suffering in isolation.
Camden and Islington NHS Trust are holding a free presentation where their will be discussing common mental health difficulties, mental wellbeing and stigma on Wednesday 24 May. Please click here if you wish to register for a place or for more information.
About the authors
Dr Bev Flint and Dr Lisa Cohen are both Clinical Psychologists at C&I Wellbeing. C&I Wellbeing is a part of Camden and Islington NHS Trust that has been set up to support the mental health of employees and help organisations address this in a helpful way. If you want to hear more about the specific interventions that we offer, or how we might work with your organisation, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: If you become concerned about yourself or someone else after reading this article, you can access support via your GP. The Samaritans also offer a 24 hour help line, providing a chance to talk in confidence. You can contact them on 116 123.