According to The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey and the Mental Health Foundation, one in six adults had a common mental health problem in the past week. In fact, by 2030 depression could be the largest cause of illness globally. Another survey polled by Mind, the charity that champions better mental health, revealed that one in five people felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed at work and less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had told their manager.
These are scary statistics which is why Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, says “There is clearly still work to do when it comes to breaking down stigma and providing the type of open and supportive culture that enables staff to be honest with managers, to access support and to enjoy a healthy working life.”
Monday 10 October was World Mental Health Day. This day aims to raise money for mental health charities and also to raise awareness. The World Health Organisation defines Mental Health as: “not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises 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 her or his community.” Wellbeing is very high on the corporate agenda at the moment because smart employers know that people perform at their best when they are healthy, comfortable and happy, when they can put everything into their job, and remain resilient, focussed and dedicated.
Mental health is a big part of overall wellbeing and is crucial to the performance of business. My favourite quote about the importance of mental health in the workplace is this, said by Caroline Wayman Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Financial Ombudsman: “Often people will point to the financial and other benefits – having increased productivity, reduced sick pay or fewer legal claims. But, for me, it’s fundamentally about doing the right thing – the moral and societal imperatives come first.”
As we know a culture doesn’t ‘just happen’, change doesn’t happen overnight, and culture has to be worked on, adapted and reinforced every day. So, here are some ways in which you can create a culture that support wellbeing and mental health, starting today:
Educate yourself and your teams
There are many different kinds of mental health problems, ranging from depression and anxiety to stress, OCD, phobias, addiction and many more. Often people don’t feel comfortable to talk about mental health because they don’t understand enough about how mental health problems manifest, what the triggers are, and how it might impact their day-to-day living. Educating yourself on mental health issues, by looking at websites such as Mind can be a great place to start.
Treat everyone as an individual
As discussed above, there are many different types of mental health so we should be careful not to assume that everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is the same, or that two instances or people are alike. Therefore, just as you lead, motivate, and develop your team members differently, so should you deal with their mental wellbeing differently.
Know your team
Our mental wellbeing can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month or year to year. If you know your team, you will know their usual patterns of behaviour, how they act, and how they come across. If you think someone in your team seems to be acting differently, make sure you take the lead and talk with them. Knowing your team also means you will know how to approach them and how to have the conversation. If the reason for the change does turn out to be a mental health problem it is vital that the leader has started the process of dealing with it in a kind and supportive way.
If you establish honest, open communication within your teams, people are more likely to be able to open up about any health concerns. There are no special skills needed to talk to your team about the importance of mental wellbeing, simply the skills that any great leader would have when talking with their teams: active listening, empathy, compassion and flexibility.
If you suspect that someone’s mental wellbeing might be compromised, do not hesitate to talk to them about it. Just because someone might be dealing with a mental health problem, doesn’t mean you need to treat them any differently to if they were experiencing a physical health problem. Have a conversation, offer your support, and ask them how you can help.
Get support and advice
Don’t brave it alone. It is ok to ask for help if you are dealing with a situation you haven’t had to deal with before, just like you would ask for help if dealing with a new process or procedure. There are lots of places you can go for help and as the saying goes, ‘if in doubt, ask’! Occupational Health or your Employee Assistance Programme can offer support to both employers and employees. There are also lots of ways to contact Mind for help: 0300 123 3393, firstname.lastname@example.org or text: 86463.
Let’s help raise awareness of this very common issue and create a culture within your team where it is definitely OK to talk.
Daisy Black is a Head of Learning and Development for Mitie Client Services