Let’s talk about mental health
by Suzanne Howe Communications Senior Consultant Bill Bruce
It is over 18 months since we last wrote about mental health in a blog on the SHC site, and since then we’ve all experienced unprecedented challenges, many of which have put the spotlight on mental health. Covid lockdown isolated those who live alone and caused anxiety for those unable to be with family or loved ones.
The essence of a blog is to share personal views, and while this is published on the SHC website, I’ve put my name to it, as I don’t mind saying that I’ve had some history with the subject. I nearly wrote that I ‘admitted’ to that, as if it was some sort of crime, and I can certainly say that when I first suffered from depression 25 years ago, there was a palpable social stigma around it. I was frequently simply told to ‘pull myself together’ and was prescribed drugs which detached me from the world and put me into a chemically induced ‘lockdown’. The counselling I received was both prescriptive and unhelpful, and what was most obviously lacking, was just talking about it and, more importantly, feeling that it was OK to talk about it.
So, let’s talk about mental health now.
Mental health in the workplace
Let’s look at the effect of three lockdowns on employee wellbeing and how business leaders can better support their employees in the workplace.
In October, Business in the Community (BITC), in partnership with Bupa UK Insurance, issued the Mental Health at Work 2020 report, which revealed the scale and impact of the pandemic on the mental health of employees. It profiled the impressive progress that employers had continued to make in the face of more than six months of disruption and said that this created optimism for the future – as the nation’s businesses continued to navigate through the evolving crisis and build back responsibly.
The report showed that:
- 41% of employees had experienced mental health symptoms caused, or worsened, by work in 2020
- 51% of poor mental health caused by work last year was due to pressure
- 76% felt that colleagues were considerate of their mental wellbeing, and a further 69% believed the same of their managers; but
- 30% of employees were telling no-one about their mental health issues.
BITC encourages businesses to make the Mental Health at Work Commitment and recommends three employer calls to action:
- Elevate mental health and safety on a par with physical health and safety
- Redesign jobs to support the promotion of long-term mental health, building on the new ways of working since Covid-19 – and avoid employee burn-out by recognising pressure and workload are the biggest drivers of work-related poor mental health
- Do not shy away from challenging issues: update your policies on domestic abuse, suicide, and bereavement.
Top tips for staying well at work
Research by the mental health charity Mind, confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers.
- More than one in five (21%) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 14% agreed that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them
- 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
- 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing, but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.
So, there is clearly a long way to go to improve mental wellbeing, and in particular employee engagement.
Mind’s top tips for staying well at work include reclaiming your lunch break, organising a picnic, holding a group activity, or taking up a challenge. Addressing the work-life balance is imperative, creating clear boundaries between work and home – something that came into sharp focus during three lockdowns.
We’re pleased that our local Mind representative is going to talk to us virtually at our next team meeting, where we hope to learn more about how they help people in the workplace.
Living alone through lockdown certainly wasn’t easy, but we thankfully live in more enlightened times than those I experienced 25 years ago. Awareness around mental health issues has improved dramatically, with organisations such as Mind keeping it on the agenda and being proactive in offering help and advice to businesses and individuals.
Talking, and listening
Talking, and being safe in the thought that talking about mental health is OK, is crucial. Returning to my personal view, even the words we use or need to use can feel difficult. I’ve learned that it is OK to admit or confess to being lonely, to talk openly about being worried or anxious – and, as importantly, to ask how other people are feeling.
Then, as a companion to the talking, I’m sure I’ve learned to be a better listener – and that’s something we could probably all do better. It’s OK to talk about mental health.
Suzanne Howe Communications is proud to support the mental health charity Mind.
To find out more, visit: www.mind.org.uk