Mental Health Awareness Week: The importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

Jasmin De Vivo

Board Director

This week marks ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ – an incredibly important time for us all to think about mental health, check in on friends, colleagues, and family, and better understand the ways we can protect our wellbeing.

Of course, these conversations shouldn’t be isolated to this week alone, but it does provide a good opportunity to assess mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and what we can do to support colleagues.

The World Health Organization defines the term ‘mental health’ as a “state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act, and over the course of our lives, our ways of thinking, mood and behaviour can be impacted. We are all challenged on a daily basis, and this can of course, be further influenced by genetics, people and lifestyle choices and if not managed and supported, can negatively impact work, friends, family.

Mental health should be regarded as a continuum, meaning that we can have good days and bad days, and our circumstances and emotions will constantly change throughout different stages of our lives. When we’re feeling positive, we are more likely to be resilient. However, mental ill health, depending on the severity, can result in difficulty coping and, in some cases, severe symptoms and risk of self-harm and suicide. That is why it’s important for us to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms, and support those in need, so that they can lead full and productive lives.

When it comes to championing mental health in the workplace, it’s important to provide employees with various levels of support and access to resources, to both educate and empower. Only then will you begin to build a positive culture, encouraging employees to talk about mental health – after all, it’s just as important as physical health and there is still much to do to create greater awareness. At a foundational level, providing sources of information on current mental health issues will help with this. Charities such as Heads Together, Mind, Samaritans, The Mental Health Foundation and Re Think Mental Illness, are all committed to being responders for mental health and provide some excellent resources and materials to help people better understand mental health, and how we can support those experiencing it. There are also other organisations like ACAS which gives employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice – including supporting mental health at work.

Employers can also consider investing in training for employees to become ‘Mental Health Responders’ and ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ – something I myself have just completed at PLMR through St John Ambulance. It’s an area I am passionate about, and something the business is very supportive of. Responders and first aiders play an essential role in being the first point of contact for colleagues in need of mental health support. Other responsibilities include creating awareness of mental health in the workplace, understanding the signs and symptoms of mental ill health, and advising colleagues on the types of support available. The Mental Health First Aider will also support and respond should a colleague experience a mental health episode. This also ties into advice, guidance and promotion of other initiatives and programmes that colleagues may have access to as part of their benefits package – from employee assistance programmes to private healthcare.

While it’s not compulsory, having a mental health policy in place will also help an organisation share best practice for managing stress and anxiety in the workplace and the processes for escalating concerns. This is important when considering that Mind’s (2019) research found that one in five employees called in sick to avoid work they had been asked to complete; 42 per cent had considered resigning due to workplace stress; and 56 per cent of employers said they would do more to improve staff wellbeing but did not have the information and training to do so. Therefore, promoting information around the treatment and types of support available for different mental health conditions can help with this, including suggesting self-help in the form of exercise, a consistent sleep routine, healthy eating and time management, as well as offering professional help where required. Training for management, line managers and company-wide sessions on mental health and wellbeing are also good ways to promote best practice and encourage a positive culture, as well as helping colleagues realise that it’s ok to talk about mental health and open up to peers, managers or HR, should they be struggling.

There are lots of amazing resources, organisations and support out there which employers can use and promote, including material from St John Ambulance which lists various information relating to various mental health conditions.

Positive mental health in the workplace – and in society – is key, and so it’s important for us to work together, to help one another, at all times.

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