Mental Health in the workplace…Ok, so it's not a subject that is easy to talk about. Let's face it for many of us, it's still a difficult subject matter to bring to the table and not necessarily something we find easy to open up about. Every week in the UK, it’s thought that over 6 Million of us will suffer some form of Mental Health illness, a certain degree of anxiety or depression. Whether triggered due to a workplace or homelife matter, its inevitably going to have a negative impact on our job performance. So why is our Metal Health wellbeing so important? What are the signs we should be looking out for? and what can we do to promote positive wellbeing?
Why is Mental Health so important?
Firstly we must all appreciate that Mental Health is something we all have. The good news is that it's not always bad, we can, of course, have good mental health. That positive feeling of being able to tackle anything the world has to throw at us. There are some days when no matter what, our mindset is so determined that we will achieve anything we set out to achieve. I’m sure we have all had days like that where were ready to take on the world. Equally, we have to appreciate that just as our physical health has it's up’s and down’s, so does our mental health. Recognising and raising awareness of this in the workplace plays such a pivotal role in raising the wellbeing of our teams.
We all face stressful challenges in our everyday work lives, no more so than the current challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. Inevitably, many of us will be facing additional challenges when it's deemed a return to the workplace can be permitted. The return to work for many is very likely to bring with it all sorts of emotions and stresses with the anxiety levels for some of us rising off the scale. Have we considered all the other emotions our colleagues may be feeling? boredom, isolation and any negative mental impact that may have crept in due to a lack of social interaction. The danger of not recognising or talking about such feelings is of course that very often they can escalate into a much more serious, long term health conditions such as depression and severe anxiety. How we tackle the subject of our mental health is very likely to play a pivotal role in ensuring our transition back into the workplace is a positive experience for all.
Spotting the common signs of poor Mental Health
Just as promoting positive mental health is a responsibility that should fall on all of us, so is the responsibility of keeping an eye out for our work colleagues. Adopting the approach of, "Oh, HR will deal with that" or "Well, I'm not their Line Manager" isn't really in the spirit of "team" is it. As colleagues and often friends we have a responsibility to look out for each other. Here are some of the behaviours that may suggest a colleague is suffering from poor Mental Health:
- In many cases, the symptoms of poor mental health first exhibit themselves in the form of a physical sign, such as fatigue, constant headaches/migraines, and a general lack of energy.
- They may be demonstrating an increasingly irritable nature or perhaps totally against their usual character, they have become more complacent than they usually are.
- A classic sign is often a fall in their productivity levels, they may start to make more mistakes than you would usually expect to see from them.
- If they're in a role that requires them to make key decisions you may witness that they experience difficulties in reaching conclusions or making a decision that they would normally make in an instance.
- A more obvious sign is often their absence at times when you know they would usually be the most punctual. Are they usually the first to the office team meeting, first in the office and always punctual?.
It has to be said of course, that many of us experience all of the above at some times in our lives, some of the symptoms more frequently than others. In the case of someone suffering from poor metal health, it's likely that you will notice changes in these signs at a much faster scale and polar opposites to their normal behaviours. One note of caution is of course that sometimes these symptoms can creep up on people and often go unnoticed, yet another good reason for us all to ensure Mental Health in the workplace is in our everyday work conversations.
Simple things we can do to promote positive Mental Health
- Talk about your feelings – Who would have thought just talking was one of the hardest things to do. Although communication in many workplaces has improved drastically in recent times, the subject matter of Mental Health still has a long way to go. For some, there is still a certain level of stigma attached to the subject in certain environments. If it's hard to discuss the subject in the open office forum, try to identify a colleague with whom you feel comfortable sharing these type of conversations. Be bold and raise the subject with them, you never know they may just have been feeling the same way about engaging in such a conversation with you.
- Eat and Drink well - As a society were never afraid to talk about the great new healthy recipe we tried at the weekend or the fact that we have been drinking our recommended 2 Ltr bottle of Smart Water sat proudly on our desks. However, our first thoughts often turn to the physical benefits and how we feel much better as we can now fit into that suit or dress we bought for a recent wedding. Never underestimate the positive impact that eating and drinking well can have on our mental wellbeing too.
- Exercise regularly – Regular exercise can have a huge impact on your mental health as well as its physical benefits. Research has shown that a consistent level of daily exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and ADHD. You don’t have to be a Marathon runner, just a simple 20/30 mins walk at lunchtime can help release those feel-good endorphins that in turn relieve stress, improve memory and generally lift your spirits.
- Laughter is a great tonic – Laughter can be such a great morale booster and lift the mood in the workplace, (Worth noting, it should always be at an appropriate time...perhaps not when the Director has just fallen over a chair). For me, laughter plays a huge part in my life, there's no better tonic having a good laugh and releasing even more of those feel-good endorphins. I would challenge anyone who says that they don't feel better off the back of a good old fashioned belly-laugh.
- Exercise your strengths – We are all good at something and completing a task we know we have a great aptitude for does wonders for our self-esteem. If you're feeling a little down never be afraid of turning to something you know you are good at and smash the task right out of the park.
It's great that we celebrate Mental Health during this special Awareness week every May, but vitally important that this subject forms part of our workplace conversations every week. It needs to form an integral part of our health and wellbeing policies and a subject that all of us learn to talk more openly about. For a more comprehensive guide to Mental Health awareness and how to raise awareness in the workplace, check out Mental Health.org, they have some great articles.
Remember its "OK not to be OK", start talking and let's ensure we are looking after each other in these challenging times.