Finally, it seems that the taboos around talking about mental health are being broken. Everyone from William and Kate, to Lady Gaga to stars from Love Island, are doing their bit to raise awareness and acceptance of mental health awareness.
In society as a whole there has been a taboo about talking about mental wellness, as if the wellbeing of the mind is something shameful whereas an injury to a leg is acceptable… We don’t shy away from talking about flu or the common cold, offering a tissue or a hot drink where one is required, so why do we shy away from talking about stress, and anxiety and insecurities in the same way?
I am sure that the majority of people upon hearing about someone suffering from mental health issues would be happy to provide an ear or a shoulder when needed but why are we still not reaching out for the help.
Mental Health Awareness Anxiety
Now doesn’t that seem like an ironic sentence? Anxiety and stress caused by the thought of letting people know you are experiencing mental illness is a very real threat to vulnerable people. Imagine if you broke your leg and every time people found out that you had broken your leg it would make the pain increase. You would be desperate to avoid people finding out wouldn’t you? That can be how it feels for someone suffering from depression or anxiety, the idea of being talked about or looked at differently can make exposure seem unbearable. But why should this be the case. Being stressed about being stressed is a very real, very debilitating condition leaving some completely “frazzled”.
By taking steps to break the stigma and having more people stand up and talk openly about their mental health then maybe this could be one anxiety we, as a society, can help ease.
Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace
Helene Simmons, HR Manager at Safety Media commented:
“We spend a lot of time at work and our line managers have a huge role to play in employee well-being. Yes, line managers often worry about saying the ‘wrong thing’ but talk to your HR contact. If you don’t have one, Mental Health charity websites provide some great toolkits for line managers and individuals.”
Creating a workplace culture where individuals feel they can approach their line manager and have an open and supportive conversation about their mental health is key. At Safety Media we encourage our team to ‘just ask’ if they require support. Whether it be a requirement for adjusted hours to ease childcare burdens or time off at short notice to deal with what is important outside of work, our employees (we hope) know they can approach their manager under the ‘Just ask’ scheme and their needs be considered in a fair and open manner. As part of this, it is also important that line managers signpost their team member to the relevant professional help, e.g. suggesting a chat with their GP and support with any adjustments that may help in the workplace.
Earlier in the year, Ruby Wax spoke at the health and safety Expo about reaching out to those suffering from mental health issues and how we can be more aware of this as a growing issue in society. One part of her talk particularly resonated loudly in the packed theatre hall…
“It could be your senior managers or people seen as the most ‘together’ in your organisation that are actually suffering the most.”
At that point in the talk you could see the “Gosh you’re right” moment trickling around the room. You never really know what someone else is going through or experiencing. We all have a work facade and a “real” you but does that mean we don’t want our colleagues to care?
The message behind the talk was that depression is a silent killer and that the best people in your organisation could be suffering from this and no one knows. One in four people suffer from depression or have some type of mental illness and so Ruby gave some advice how to not only identify them but how to potentially approach them in order to provide support.
The main message Ruby gave was “It’s in their eyes“. Having been a long term sufferer of depression herself, Ruby described it as “replacing your old personality with a block of cement”. You can tell if someone is lost because they have “checked out” there is nothing there.
“If you notice somebody looking sad or with no expression day after day. If they are lethargic, but there is ‘nothing wrong’ then you know there is a wider problem.”
Mental Health Awareness Day
There has been a lot of coverage surrounding this topic this week, culminating in World Mental Health Day on 10th October. However, one of the most powerful comparisons and examples I have come across is this:
You wouldn’t treat someone with a broken arm differently, so why would you treat someone with anxiety or depression differently? You may take their concerns into consideration and be understanding of certain outbreaks or incidents but with understanding comes acceptance. If you had a cold you wouldn’t judge someone for sneezing, so why would you judge someone who retreats from the crowd when it gets too much?
Mental Health at Work
This week, The Duke of Cambridge launched ‘Mental Health at Work’, a new initiative from Heads Together and Mind aiming to change the way that we approach workplace mental health across the UK. The website has a lot of resources and content and ways for people to approach mental health in the workplace.
Here is a video of the Duke of Cambridge launching the new initiative:
“Hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs each year because of poor mental health. Companies lose great staff, productivity is hit and too many people don’t achieve their potential.”
The new website provides resources for companies, managers, professionals and colleagues to support and educate others with mental health awareness and challenges. There is a glossary of terms to try and help raise understanding of the phrases and terminologies used in mental health awareness that may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. To find out more about this project or to access the multitude of free resources visit: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/
One of the most important things we can do as employers is to start a conversation. This can be done via training, informal reviews, open forums, opening up to others…here are some key members of the Royal family leading this movement by an example of open conversation about mental health, the reality of life and loss and how this can affect people in all walks of life.
Encourage a good culture within your organisation, seek help and direction, look at the resources you have available to you and make a positive change…not tomorrow, today.
Written by Claire Williams, Marketing Director. All opinions are my own.