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10 ways to improve mental health at work

Just one in ten people feel comfortable telling their boss about their mental health issues. We asked the experts what to do if a colleague opens up about their mental struggles and how to look after your own mental health at work

It’s staggering that while 60 per cent of UK employees have experienced mental health issues, three out of four wouldn’t tell anyone at work them, the Mental Health at Work Report has found.

The report was based on a survey of both employers and employees to find out how mental health is perceived in the workplace, and how comfortable people are discussing their mental health at work. Timely results for this Mental Health Awareness Week.

over a million people who disclosed a mental health issue to their employer have faced negative consequences or even dismissal

The report also found that 15 per cent of people face demotion or disciplinary action, and some were even fired, after disclosing their mental health issue to their boss. When scaled up to the entire working population could mean as many as 1.2 million people have faced negative repercussions just from being open about their personal mental health issues.

Whilst 53 per cent of people feel comfortable discussing mental health at work in general, the problem lies with people feeling comfortable enough to be open about their own mental health problems. Poppy Jaman, spokesperson for Mental Health First Aid England, says: ‘It’s encouraging to see that attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are shifting, however this report demonstrates the employers are still failing to translate increased awareness into action. Worryingly, over a million people who disclosed a mental health issue to their employer have faced negative consequences or even dismissal’. Less than a quarter of managers are trained in mental health support so don’t necessarily know the most appropriate ways to respond to people opening up about their mental health struggles, she added.

The report aims to challenge the myth that mental health issues equate to poor performance. It also shines light onto the importance of mental health first aid, suggesting it should be given the same importance and priority as physical first aid training. We spoke to the experts about how to improve mental health at work – your own and other people’s.

What to do if someone opens up to you

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director for Business in the Community, has offered five tips on what to do if somebody at work opens up to you about their mental health struggles.

1. Listen and respect privacy

Mental health is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about at work. If a colleague tells you about their mental health, just a listening ear and reassurance that you will respect their privacy can make all the difference. If you’re their line manager you must ensure confidentiality. If information does need to be disclosed at a management level, you should discuss with the individual what information they would feel comfortable being shared and with whom.

2. Take on little tasks to make their life easier

As a colleague you can offer practical as well as emotional support. Ask them if there are any specific tasks you could help with. For example, offering a lift to an appointment or asking them if there are tasks you can take over for a while. As a line manager you can make reasonable adjustments to support them to stay at or return to work, like flexible working from home or allowing absence for treatment.

Women driving Just one in ten people would tell their boss about a mental illness - How to look after your mental health at work Healthista

Even something as simple as offering your colleague a lift to an appointment can make a big difference.

3. Get the right training!

You may not feel equipped, so ask your organisation to provide mental health first aid training. You could also set up a Wellbeing Champion network in your organisation which offers peer support and creates a more open environment where people feel it’s easier to tell others about how they are doing.

4. Look into what help your workplace already offers

Look for information that might be helpful – find out what policies and procedures your company already has. Many workplaces offer Employee Assistance Programmes through their HR departments with access to counselling, as well as resources for line managers so they are trained to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.

5. Try and keep work life as normal as possible

Part of the support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. This could include involving your colleague in social events, or chatting about other parts of your lives.

5 ways to improve your own wellbeing at work

Today is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is workplace mental health. Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, shares her top tips on keeping yourself mentally healthy during the working day.

1. Email less, chat more

In today’s technological world it can be all too easy to favour digital communication over REAL conversation. Instead of just pinging over an email, make a point to talk to colleagues – connecting with others promotes wellbeing. Your colleagues can offer a valuable pool of support so it’s important to put time into strengthening those connections. Take a look at our Take 10 Together toolkit for more tips and tools on how to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

2. Take a hike!

We’ve all heard how dangerous sitting at a desk all day can be for our physical health. But increasing your activity also offers a great boost for mental health, it gives you an endorphin boost and increases confidence. Regular exercise has been proven to lower rates of depression and anxiety. Make time to walk to work, get away from your desk and take a stroll at lunchtime and opt for the stairs.

Woman walking Just one in ten people would tell their boss about a mental illness - How to look after your mental health at work Healthista

Going for a walk during your lunch break can help reduce anxiety and stress.

3. Stay curious

When was the last time you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone? Experiencing new things and meeting new people is integral to our self-worth. If you don’t feel challenged enough at work then put yourself forward to start an after-work club, join a reading group or learn a new language. Learning new things is stimulating and can help to lift your mood.

4. Random acts of kindness

Offering a helping hand promotes our own happiness. This can be as simple as complimenting a colleague, organising a charity run for your company or even bringing in a homemade cake to share with your co-workers. Giving makes other people happy and will make you feel happier too.

5. Accept when things go wrong

No one is perfect. It’s inevitable that things within, and outside, our control will go wrong at work. Whether your big project gets delayed, an event falls flat or you’re stuck in traffic and late to an important meeting. Be kind to yourself when things go wrong. Try to shift the focus away from what you can’t change or do, to the positive things you can do. Positive emotions can build up a buffer against stress and even lead to lasting changes in the brain to help maintain wellbeing.

For more information on how to set up mental health in the workplace schemes, contact Business in the Community of Mental Health Charity Mind


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