With 1 in 4 working adults experiencing mental ill health during their lifetime and incidences of ill health increasing, particularly during the pandemic, there is often a stigma associated with mental ill-health in the workplace.
However mental ill-health should be at the forefront of every business and building understanding and support for colleagues is critical:
- It is the right thing to do – Every employer has a duty of care to its employees, whether an employee is experiencing mental ill-health or physical ill-health.
- It values a diverse workforce – The economic and human cost associated with mental ill health cannot be ignored. Promoting positive mental health in work is a key responsibility of every employer and shows they value the contribution of their entire workforce.
- It is good business sense – Positively supporting employees mental health promotes good engagement between the employer and employee and benefits everyone. Mental ill-health costs UK employers £35 billion each year and accounts for 91 million working days lost.
Spotting the signs
The first thing is to be aware and see the signs of mental ill-health. There can be many triggers to someone experience a period of illness, but the signs and symptoms of mental illness are individual.
The key to spotting mental ill-health is noticing the changes in the individual but here are some common early warning signs to look out for.
- Tiredness or difficulty in sleeping
- Lack of care over personal appearance
- Change in weight (can be both a noticeable loss or gain)
- Experiencing frequent minor illnesses (headaches, stomach upsets etc.)
- Appearing generally run down
- Appearing withdrawn
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of confidence
- Loss of humour
- Increased amount of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs
Signs at work
- Missing deadlines
- Increased errors
- Working too many hours
- Increased sickness/absence
- Change in attitude at work
Talking about mental ill health
Of course, we should always check in with our colleagues regularly just to connect, say “Hi” and help and support them, and when people are working from home this is even more important. However, starting conversations about mental ill-health can be incredibly scary especially when you have no previous experience but please don’t be afraid. Here are ten top tips for starting a mental health conversation with someone you are concerned about:
- Choose a setting – somewhere private and where both of you will feel comfortable – if holding the conversation remotely, make sure it is somewhere suitable for both of you too.
- Make sure you have plenty of time to give to the conversation – the last thing you want to appear is rushed.
- Keep the chat positive and supportive, with open and non-confrontational body language
- Be empathetic and don’t offer insensitive advice such as “it can’t be that bad”, “pull yourself together “or “man up”
- Accept what they share with you – respect their feelings and emotions, even if they are hard for you to understand.
- Give the person your full attention and do not be tempted to interrupt
- Listen to not only the words they speak. Pay attention to their tone of voice and body language – all help to truly understand how they are feeling.
- Give reassurance that there are lots of options of support
- Reassure them that you are always available to talk.
- Encourage them to seek professional help
Useful three questions to ask when having a conversation with someone you are concerned about:
- How are you feeling at this moment?
- How long have you felt like this?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
By having the conversation, you and your colleague are taking a step in the right direction and then you can start to look at what support and resources are available to help.
NHS research has shown that there are five steps anyone can take to improve their mental health
Connect with other people
Whether this is in person, on the phone or over a virtual platform such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc. If possible, take time each day to connect whether it be with a friend or family member, consciously making time and sustaining healthy relationships is proven to improve confidence and provides emotional support also allowing you to support others.
Be careful not to rely on technology or social media alone to maintain and build relationships. It is easy to get into a habit of only ever texting, messaging, or emailing people.
Be physically active
This is not only great for physical fitness; evidence shows by being physically active the body releases hormones that can also improve mental wellbeing.
Give to others
Research suggests that acts of kindness can improve mental wellness by creating positive feelings and giving a feeling of purpose and self-worth. Acts of giving can also help you to connect with other people. It can be small acts towards other people or larger ones such as volunteering in the community.
Learn a new skill
Research shows that learning a new skill can improve your mental wellbeing by boosting confidence and self-esteem. If you do not have time for a new skill try something simple like learning to cook a new dish or work on a new DIY project.
Being in the present moment (mindfulness)
There are lots of websites / free apps that promote and direct how to be present in the moment (also called mindfulness). Mindfulness or being in the present moment can improve mental health by guiding you to learn to enjoy life more and understand yourself better. Evidence suggests it can positively change the way you feel about life.
There are many on-line resources that offer advice and support, a useful start point is the NHS website
and here are a few others that you and your colleague might want to explore:
Mental Health and well-being really does matter to each and every one of us and Remit offers mental health first aid training, accredited by the MHFA, so you and your colleagues can be equipped to support colleagues and manage this effectively in the workplace.
If you want to find out more about how we can help you and your business, please get in touch