As Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off, our London based Wellbeing Consultant (and Occupational Psychologist) Maeve Waite reflects on perceptions of mental health and what role the workplace takes.
Whether you want to admit it or not, we all have mental health. When I said ‘mental health’, what was your first reaction? Was it something negative, upsetting or scary? If so, you’re equating mental health with mental illness, but there is a distinction.
Mental health, like physical health, is something we all have. It governs our wellbeing, and is responsible for our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Mental illness is when we have poor mental health that then becomes a barrier to us living our day-to-day lives.
Research conducted in the UK in 2017 found that 60% of employees have experienced symptoms of mental illness as either a result of work, or having been impacted by work (Business in the Community, 2017). 15% of people who disclosed any mental health issues to their managers faced disciplinary action, a job loss or demotion (BITC, 2017). It’s illegal to discriminate against those with mental health conditions, as it is a disability, and therefore a legally protected characteristic. Yet the stigma of mental illness, and mental health in general still exists in the workplace.
Isn’t it then ironic that we talk about our mental health every day without realising? If you’ve said how happy, annoyed, stressed, excited, anxious, or positive you are, you’ve already been talking about your mental health. The taboo is in the illness, but it shouldn’t be – it’s not a choice, it’s not the individual, it is a condition that nobody would choose to struggle with.
The workplace is an environment in which we’re conditioned to always need to be at our best. Employers constantly remind us that we need to be present, productive and efficient, hitting those targets and deadlines, and generating more profit. It’s the nature of business and isn’t a problem unless it is at the expense of employee wellbeing. As a result, employees may feel they cannot discuss their mental health openly at work for fear of seeming weak, inefficient, unreliable and unproductive – and unfortunately, there are still some who believe this is the case.
Health @ Work know it isn’t. By focusing on employee health and wellbeing, we have seen increased rates of productivity, morale, and profit, and reduced rates of absenteeism in the thousands of workplaces we have accredited with the Workplace Wellbeing Charter.
Mental health should be a priority. 1 in 4 of us in the UK will struggle with mental health issues over the course of our lifetime, so if it’s not you, it’ll be someone you know. The workplace is an excellent opportunity to introduce preventative measures to reduce the risk of mental illness and its accompanying stigma, which often negatively affects individuals. The following tips can help you and your employees improve your mental health at work:
Look at your culture. Does your workplace foster an environment where employees can speak openly about how they feel, without judgement? If not, this needs to start with those at the top of the chain. Senior management buy-in is vital for any interventions, as they can lead by example.
Make sure you have an up-to-date mental health policy that all employees know how to access at any time. Copies could be included at every induction process.
Appoint mental health champions and establish forums. One of the worst parts of struggling with mental illness is how isolating it can be. By creating forums, people may feel less alone and see they are surrounded by others who understand and can relate. Mental health champions can be vocal and present in the workplace, to promote positive mental health, and available should anyone need to speak to them about an issue.
Promote national and regional campaigns. Mental Health Awareness Week this year runs 14th-20th May – have you promoted this at work? If not, don’t worry, as there are plenty of initiatives and campaigns throughout the year, including World Mental Health Day in October. Putting up materials or raising money for charities like Mind or Rethink Mental Illness are great, fun ways to bring people together to talk about mental health and reduce the stigma.
Sign up to the Workplace Wellbeing Charter. Obviously, the Workplace Wellbeing Charter is an excellent starting point! Health @ Work can help to identify improvements, provide training and support, in a range of health and wellbeing areas to ensure your workplace is the happiest and healthiest it can be.