SHE 2018 – Lessons Learned from Keynote Speakers – Ruby Wax

Mental Health in the workplace - Ruby Wax

At the Safety and Health Expo this year Safety Media were supporting the Keynote Theatre.  The topics of conversation resonated strongly with our management team as mental health in the workplace, strong leadership and making the most of technology are key themes across Safety Media.

For those of you who missed the event we are going to round up the talks in a series of articles highlighting a few of the key messages and lessons learned.

Ruby Wax: Mental Health in the Workplace

The message behind the talk was that depression is a silent killer and that the best people in your organisation could be suffering with no one knowing.  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.”

How to approach mental health in the workplace

The key thing here is to realise these people may not know they have a problem themselves and so it is a delicate situation to handle.  She stresses not to say “perk up” and put undue pressure on these individuals, this is an illness and you wouldn’t tell a person with a severe allergy to just “Give it a go”!  Worries about job security will make things worse so as an employer you are urged to encourage the individual to seek professional help while making them feel secure and safe.  Handling mental health in the workplace is a delicate job and as managers or employers it is always worth seeking professional advice from HR or HR advisers if you are unsure about tackling situations yourself.

The evolution of stress

To cover a wider view of mental health in the workplace Ruby moved from depression onto Stress and feeling “frazzled”, which she describes as being “stressed about stress”.  It seems like an irony built for the 21st century that we are making ourselves stressed by worrying about being stressed but it is true and it is happening.  Lying awake at night concerned about this that and the other, brains clicking on and refusing to switch off, constantly finding yourself thinking about things far out of place of the situation that you are currently in.  These are things I am sure the majority of people reading this article, or who heard Ruby’s talk can nod along in agreement to that happen more often than we would like them to.

Ruby believes that stress is evolutionary, basically suggesting that the human race has evolved so much and so quickly that we have not developed a coping mechanism emotionally to keep up with the pace.  That alongside the dangers of social comparison thanks to the invention of social media mean that as a race we are more susceptible than ever to becoming stressed and over thinking.

Combat tools for good mental health in the workplace

There is no quick fix for depression, there are ways to help an individual cope, such as seeking medical advice, potentially medication and from an employers point of view providing a secure and suitable working environment.  However, when it comes to stress and being frazzled Ruby believes practices such as mindfulness, yoga and Ti Chi can go a long way to help keeping the mind focused and healthy.

Ruby took the audience through an exercise of focusing on the sensation in your hands after a clap.  By focusing on a single sense the theory is that this deactivated the gland producing cortisol which allows you to then focus.  When your mind wondered away from the sensation in your hands you were urged to re-focus and continue the exercise. There were a number of other mindfulness exercises through the 45 minute session designed to give people a taster of the coping mechanisms that can be used to help maintain good mental health in the workplace.

It was a surreal moment to sit in the middle of a very busy exhibition hall in front of Ruby Wax who sat in silence with her eyes closed and had literally hundreds of people practising mindfulness at once. This experience can be seen in one of the videos below…. Trust me, this was not your average show experience!

Practising these techniques is what makes them work and so although some relief from the busy mind may be found, the more the techniques are used the more beneficial they will become.

Lessons learned about mental health in the workplace

  • More people are suffering than any one of us realises
  • If you know someone doesn’t seem themselves and they say they are “fine” then they are not fine, they are suffering
  • Be delicate, be kind, be compassionate with people’s feelings.
  • Look in their eyes…you can see it if you really look.
  • Stressing about being stressed can be helped with the right interventions.
  • Mental health should be taken seriously and NOT ignored.
  • As an employer the mental health and wellbeing of your employees should be a number 1 priority…some of your best people may be suffering right under your nose and you have no idea.


Videos from the event

Please excuse the shaky camera work and abrupt endings to the recordings but the content of these clips is too important to not be shared.

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