Public and corporate awareness of the importance of mental health is increasing in the UK, with media outlets rightfully bringing greater attention to the topic. According to Mind, approximately one in four adults will experience a mental health issue each year and, staggeringly, one in six of us report experiencing a common mental health problem each week.
With anxiety and depression the most prevalent issues, this can have a huge effect on our working lives. In total, approximately 70 million work days – 12.7% of all sick days – are lost on a yearly basis because of mental health problems, equating to a cost for companies in the region of £2.4 billion.
We take a closer look at the relationship between mental health and work, as well as the steps we can all take to support good mental health in the workplace, both as employees and employers.
The invisible illness
It might not always be clear that a colleague is struggling with a mental health problem. Speaking up about problematic feelings can be difficult enough already without having to confront social stigma, shame and fear of compromising their employment. It’s important to remember that whether we have been clinically diagnosed with a mental illness or not, we are all prone to experiencing feelings of anxiety, guilt, anger and unhappiness at different stages in our lives.
While entirely normal, these are things that can have an impact on our work. Mental health problems can lead to effects on our performance like emotional exhaustion, absenteeism and decreased productivity. But, with the proper mental health training and awareness for employees, companies will be better equipped to help their staff safely disclose their problems, receive support and lead full and satisfying lives both in and out of work.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is one example of a training course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. It won’t teach you to be a therapist, but it will teach you to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis – and potentially stop a crisis from happening.
If you’re interested in taking a MHFA course, visit Happiful to find the next course available near you. Enter the code HAPPYL1FE10 at the checkout to save 10% on course fees.
Encourage openness and utilise resources
Employees should be given the assurance that they can comfortably disclose any mental health problems they are dealing with and that their colleagues are sensitive to what they are going through. In the event of an anxiety attack or bout of depression, for example, they should be allowed to take the time needed to recover, just as they would a physical illness.
Most importantly, they need to be assured that they will not be judged and that they are not defined by their illness. The best way to achieve the level of trust required is to encourage a company culture of openness. A great way to implement this is to provide mental health awareness training for all staff as part of an employee induction programme or learning at work week.
Dealing with emergencies effectively
An outburst of anger in the workplace may be the result of mental illness where something, or nothing, triggers a seemingly irrational reaction. It is important to acknowledge the incident for what it is and to diffuse the situation sensitively while avoiding the risk of escalation.
In the event of a panic or anxiety attack, for example, the incident is often accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating and an overwhelming feeling of dread and anguish. The body reacts as if it’s in mortal danger and triggers the fight or flight responses. As a result, actions taken during these episodes may appear unreasonable or even extreme to onlookers in the workplace. As a bystander, knowing what to do is important.
Sometimes, staying calm and granting the person the space to deal with the attack on their own terms is the best approach. In other situations, calming the individual down and offering verbal support and understanding is all that is required. Mental health awareness training can grant employees the tools for recognising and managing these situations effectively.
The relationship between workplace and head-space
Companies must create environments that are conducive to employee comfort whilst also encouraging them to work to their maximum potential. Unfortunately, there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Some employees may enjoy loud music and a lot of activity in the office while others might feel their performance is hindered by the slightest disturbance. It’s important for companies to try as much as possible to cater for all needs.
People that experience ADHD may prefer to be positioned away from areas of high activity. Those who suffer from depression or anxiety may benefit from flexible hours and the chance to work remotely, to work from home on days when they are feeling ill. Going green and positioning plants around the workplace has been found to be a stress reducer and booster of productivity.