World Mental Health Day is marked on 10 October each year.
It offers a chance to talk about mental health in general, and reminds us how we need to look after our own mental health, and how important it is to talk about things and get help if we are struggling.
However a key focus is also what we can do as a society to help prevent mental ill-health. The Mental Health Foundation would like to see action being taken at all levels to:
reduce the factors known to pose a risk to people’s mental health,
enhance those known to protect it, and
create the conditions needed for people to thrive.
We know that many people are struggling with mental health at the moment – the current cost of living crisis, following quickly on the heels of the Covid pandemic, means many people are feeling worried, overwhelmed and wondering how to cope with the pressures of everyday life.
At the same time, many businesses are facing difficult financial situations themselves and offering further financial support is not always possible.
However, there are simple things that all organisations can do to help their workers:
Firstly on an individual level. Look out for signs that employees may be struggling. Uncharacteristic responses or changes in behaviour can be signs that someone is struggling to cope. If you do spot these, don’t be afraid to start the conversation to check how someone is doing (last month’s newsletter gave some tips on handling difficult conversations). Letting the person know you have noticed that they seem to be struggling can give them permission to open up.
Secondly, think about what you can do across the business to help. The three priorities mentioned above can be a good way for employers to approach this:
How can we reduce the factors that pose a risk to our staff’s mental health?
How can we help protect the mental health of our people?
What conditions can we work to create that will enable people to thrive?
This might include:
Improving communication with staff, and encouraging genuine 2-way communication.
Be open to different ways of working to help meet individual needs, where this can be balanced with business requirements.
Keep communicating during change – Uncertainty and not being in control can increase stress, so letting employees know what is happening can be a big help.
Make sure staff get to take breaks. This can be difficult when over stretched but it is vital for staff to remain healthy, engaged and effective at work.
Encourage staff to get outside. Being in nature has been shown to improve mental health. This might include facilitating walking meetings, as well as encouraging leaving the building during breaks.
Make it easier for staff to enjoy healthy food, and a place to eat away from their desk or the shop floor.
Encourage exercise, which is known to help improve mental health. This doesn’t mean signing all your staff up to run a 10k, but encouraging them to take the time to do whatever they enjoy – whether that is swimming, dancing, yoga, gardening or hula hooping. Walking is one of the best exercises as well as having the benefits of being outside, as mentioned above.
Consider introducing limits or guidance on how people are expected to respond outside their usual hours. While flexible working has many advantages, it can also lead to people feeling they can never switch off.
Signpost to other resources. This can be a range of things, from help with claiming benefits, mental health resources, or opportunities to volunteer and give something back to the community.
Providing opportunities for staff to get together. Particularly now that more people are working remotely, social isolation and loneliness is becoming a challenge. Thinking creatively about how you can provide opportunities for interaction, particularly ones that won’t mean a financial cost for individuals who may already be struggling.
Some organisations are now training “Mental Health First Aiders” who are trained to be able to spot the signs and respond to the mental and physical health needs of a person experiencing a mental health issue, in the same way as learning physical first aid.
Consider signing up to an Employee Assistance Programme. These provide access to a 24/7 confidential helpline and other tools to support wellbeing.
More tips for individuals and businesses can be found at mentalhealth.org.uk