When we talk about our health, we often focus on physical health but, according to a study by the Mental Health Foundation, one in six people in the UK experience symptoms of mental health problems in any given week. So why aren’t we talking about it? And how do we encourage a healthy attitude to mental health at work?
Many long term mental health problems are covered by the Equality Act (2010), meaning that those living with these problems are protected from discrimination and harassment. Unfortunately, many people still worry about the stigma associated with mental health, making them too scared to talk about it.
Recognising a problem
The first step to managing a mental health issue is to recognise that there’s a problem. The symptoms vary from person to person and could range from being more tired than usual or finding it hard to sleep, becoming distracted and procrastinating, becoming short tempered and prone to outbursts of emotion or feeling drained and unmotivated.
While it can feel intimidating and you’re not obliged to tell your employer if you’re experiencing a mental health problem, talking about how you’re feeling can really help. Consider what you want to share and then set aside some time with a trusted colleague, manager or HR to discuss how you’re feeling and work out how to work through it. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your feelings at work, try talking to a friend or doctor. Just getting your feelings out can make a real difference.
Plan your time and take a break
When you have lots of work to do it can become overwhelming. Start a to-do list and make sure you don’t overload yourself. Take your lunch break and try to avoid working late. If things are becoming overwhelming, take a break. This can be as simple as stepping away from your desk for five minutes or planning in days off. Check your company policies as some employers offer mental health days. It can be hard to make time for yourself when you’re busy and stressed but this is often the time you need a break the most. It’s important to have time to relax and unwind and by skipping breaks and working late you will miss out on important downtime.
Look after your physical health
Being healthy physically can help to improve your mental health. Try to get into a routine of healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise. It’s also a good idea to cut down on alcohol consumption.
What can you do as an employer?
As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure that your employees’ health and safety is being looked after. Encourage openness amongst your employees and ensure that suitable policies are in place to protect those with mental health problems from discrimination. If an employee comes to you with a problem, make time to listen and work out what adjustments you can put in place to help them. Be sincere and don’t push them to share anything they’re not comfortable with.
Schedule regular catch-ups
If you’re a manager, it’s important to create a trusting environment where employees feel able to be open about how they’re feeling. Schedule in regular one-to-ones with your employees and give them the opportunity to discuss any issues.
Make reasonable adjustments
Under the Equality Act, a disabled person is entitled to request reasonable adjustments be made to allow them to undertake their role successfully. This includes those living with a variety of long term mental health issues. These may include a change in working hours, being allowed to work remotely or being excused from attending work events.
Get the support you need
In order to thrive at work, people with mental health problems need the correct support. Organisations such as the Mental Health Foundation and mental health charity Mind offer a wealth of research and advice to help those with mental health problems as well as providing resources to employers so they can offer support.