We're so thankful for the support of our Change Your Mind Champions. Here are their perspectives on ways to support positive mental health.
Rachel Leonard is currently studying for a PhD exploring family focused practice for mothers with mental illness and their families.
Here's her take on ways that workplaces can support mental health.
Workplace mental health
Work can be a source of fulfilment, social interaction and occupies a large proportion of our time. A healthy and supportive work environment can be a good for your mental health and well-being and can promote positive mental health. However, an unconstructive and toxic workplace can cause or exacerbate a mental health problem. We all have mental health, it normal that from time to time our mental health fluctuates. Positive mental health is not just for those with mental health problems, positive mental health is for everyone. For those that do have mental health problems, you may struggle at work, or need time off. Therefore, it is vital that we encourage and promote positive mental health in the workplace.
Advice for employers:
Positive mental health in the workplace begins from the top down; make sure that positive mental health for employees is a priority in your organisation. Let employees know that as an organisation you want to promote positive mental health.
A supportive and open workplace culture is essential for promoting positive mental health. Remember that mental health problems can be caused or exacerbated by work. Create a culture and environment where both employee and employer can be open to discussing work place challenges. Engage employees in developing potential procedures for positive mental health in the workplace.
When an employee is struggling with their mental health, they may struggle to work effectively, this can lead to increased absences or they could use work as a distract for the problem. Notice any sudden changes in behaviour that are out of character.
Parents returning from maternity or paternity leave at are heightened risk of mental health problems. Take steps to make the transition back to work as easy as possible. Allow for flexibility in work hours and work load. Remember that the return to work for mothers and fathers can be a time of guilt. A supportive work environment can ease this transition.
The stigma of mental illness still prevents people from disclosing mental health problems. Create an environment where it is acceptable and safe for employees come forward with problems.
Have clear policies and procedures in place for times where employees have poor mental health. Involve employees in the develop of these and make sure employees are content with these procedures and are informed about them.
Managers should have training in mental health at the workplace, focusing on recognising, dealing with, and talking about mental health problems of employees. Well training and informed managers can reduce the employers concern that employees might feign mental health problems as an excuse for poor attendance or low productivity.
Be informed about certain risk factors of poor mental health. This can help you to understand who is most at risk, and at what times they may be at risk. For example, employees returning to work after maternity and paternity leave, employees that have went through a major life event like bereavement or divorce, and those with a history of mental illness.
Advice for employees
Support colleagues who have mental health problems by creating a time and space that is appropriate to have a conversation about their mental health.
Bringing up the topic of positive mental health into the workplace, through informal conversations, can prevent the exacerbation of poor mental health.
If you are concerned about a colleague but direct and ask them if they are ok. If you think they might be suicidal, it is important that you ask them directly. It is a myth that talking about suicide makes it more likely. It is important to encourage them to get help. They could contact the Samaritans straight away – they can call 116 123 for free. You could also help them to call their doctor or a close friend or colleague. If you are concerned for someone’s immediate safety, or they tell you that they plan to end their life imminently, you can call 999 and ask for the police or take them to an A&E Department.
When a colleague has been off because of their mental health, it can be difficult to know how to approach the subject.
Try to stay in touch with them while they are off. Send a card from the team, the same way you might do if they have a psychical illness. Continue to invite them to staff socialising events, if this is something that your team do regularly. Ask them directly if there is anything that can help them transition back to work. When they return, try not to ignore that they have been off, as this may reinforce the hidden nature of mental health. Instead comment on how good it is to see them back. Check in with them from time to time, and ask how they are settling back in to work ok.
If a parent is returning from paternity or maternity leave, be aware that this is a time of heighten risk for developing a metal health problem. Ask them how they are coping, not just with the psychical demands of a baby but with their mental health. Be sensitive in your conversation: returning to work can be a time surrounded by guilt and parents can have very mixed feeling on their return to work.
If you are experiencing mental health problems at work: know your rights at work. Employers have a responsibility to support you while at work and also if you need time off.
While it may seem daunting to open up to your employer or colleagues about problems, it may also elevate some anxiety. Pick a suitable time to bring up the subject. Ask a trusted colleague for advice.
If you are worried about an employee or yourself, here are some signs to look out for:
A sudden change in behaviour, withdrawal from work or working overtime;
Increased sensitivity or lack of emotion;
Unusual behaviour, odd, uncharacteristic, or peculiar behaviour;
Reduced concentration, or functioning;
Lack of energy;
Anxious or irritable;
Loss of interest in work or hobbies;
Feeling stressed about work, or unable to meet workplace demands;
Feeling hopeless or sadness.
Remember noticing one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has a mental illness. However, it’s always good to check in with someone.
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