Take 10 for World Mental Health Day

It’s Tuesday morning. Day two of the working week and Friday feels like a lifetime away. By now, many of you will have kick started the day with a large skinny latte, checked your emails on a busy commuter train, and already started to think about how to juggle deliverables, meetings, your midweek HIIT class and the ever-growing list of life admin tasks you didn’t quite get to over the weekend.

Stop. Breathe. Take 10.

Today of all days, you should allow yourself to take 10 minutes to think about your own personal mental wellbeing and that of those around you, whether that’s your family, friends or colleagues. Every year, 10th October marks World Mental Health Day #WMHD17. Its objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilise efforts in support of mental health. We all have mental health and, as with our physical fitness, we all have a responsibility to learn how we can improve and maintain our wellbeing.

The World Health Organisation describe mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual reaches his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’. It’s the ability to be resilient; to feel in control, confident and good about yourself and your emotions; and to build and maintain relationships. 

We often take this for granted in the workplace, focusing more on meeting deadlines than on how we feel.  With ever-increasing demands, many of us find that our days are getting longer and our ability to maintain a work-life balance is proving harder. It’s therefore positive to see that the theme for World Mental Health Day 2017 is ‘workplace wellbeing’. Whether you’re an individual looking to boost your own wellbeing, or a leader seeking advice on supporting your team, there’s a huge range of ways you can get involved.

As I took 10 this morning, I reflected on how common mental health issues are, but how little we talk about them. 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, with 60% of UK employees experiencing a mental health issue where work was a contributing factor. (https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/system/files/research/bitc_mental_health_at_work.pdf)

It is extremely likely that mental health challenges will impact someone you work with, or could impact you personally. But this isn’t something that you have to hide from. You have the power to change the way mental health is treated in your workplace.

Create a positive culture

A healthy workplace is one where employees and managers work together to protect and promote their health, safety and wellbeing and the sustainability of the business (World Health Organisation). Creating a workplace environment and working culture that promote wellbeing can reduce the risk of mental health problems by championing the right behaviours. This can be as simple as encouraging an open and supportive culture, where people understand the importance of wellbeing and feel able to talk about physical and mental health.  

The right behaviours start with looking after your own personal wellbeing.  Mind has shared ‘five ways to wellbeing’ developed by the New Economics Foundation:

  1. Connect – feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need. Talk to people instead of sending an email

  2. Be active – regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be intense to make you feel good!

  3. Keep learning – continued learning enhances self-esteem. Set a personal goal to learn something new

  4. Take notice of the world around you – take time to enjoy the moment and environment around you

  5. Give – committing an act of kindness one a week is associated with an increase in wellbeing

Develop a structure that works

To successfully create a healthy workplace, it is important to have structures in place that increase awareness, prevent unhealthy environments, and support those who may be in need of help. Everyone needs to be able to feel this structure and have the ability to share information and feedback.  

One key issue in the workplace is awareness and training. While we all know what to do if there’s a fire or if someone needs physical first aid, many people do not know what to do if someone has mental health concerns. This knowledge gap is particularly felt amongst managers, where 84% feel that employee wellbeing is their responsibility, but just 24% have received training in supporting an employee with a mental health issue (https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/all-resources/research-articles/mental-health-work-report-2017)

Your structure should address this knowledge gap so you can be sure that anyone showing signs of mental ill health can get the support needed.  At the heart of this there should be visible leadership, promoting the topic of wellbeing through the sponsorship of your mental health structure and the sharing of information that removes stigma of mental health.  This can be as simple as sharing personal experiences and the commitment to change (If I had the ability to see around corners... By Richard Goold) 

Provide support to one another

It is important to make sure everyone knows what to do, and what not to do, when an employee or colleague begins to talk about their mental health. The most important thing you can do in any situation is listen.  Even giving 10 minutes of your time to pull up a chair, go for a coffee or a walk around the block, can help someone express their feelings.  

There is a wealth of resources on how to provide support to anyone in need. As a minimum, everyone should feel confident in identifying issues, asking people how they are and advising professional help.

  1. Understanding triggers and signs of mental ill health (Mental Health First Aid Resource)
  2. Taking the time to ask someone how they are e.g. ‘Take 10 Together’ (Mental Health First Aid Resource)
  3. Recommending the use of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers employees and family members assistance with a variety of issues including mental health concerns

Changing the way mental health is treated in your workplace may seem like a mountain to climb.  It could take time, but creating the right culture, implementing the right structure and encouraging people to support one another will lead to a happier, healthier and more productive workplace. 

So today, start by taking 10 minutes to talk about World Mental Health Day. Whether it’s increasing awareness about the topic, asking a colleague how they are feeling or committing to change, taking 10 minutes will help to remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace and go one step to improve to your personal wellbeing and that of those around you.  

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Liz Smith Manager