Mental Health in the Workplace

What is mental health and how can it affect me?

Everyone has mental health, whether it is good or poor. Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. Many people don’t realise though that having good mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.

Why does mental health need to be a workplace focus?

Stress, and in particular, routine stress is an important factor which contributes to our overall well-being. It can be very difficult to notice at first but over time, however, continued strain on the body may lead to further concerns. Mental health helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Our work environments play an important role in this.

You might wonder why your workplace is an important factor in your mental health. But just consider that people spend an average 33% of their time at their place of work. It is a continuous factor in day-to-day living, and that means having a work environment that contributes to good mental health is important for everyone.

The main factors known to cause work-related stress, depression or anxiety are workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, as well as a lack of managerial support.

Did you know?

In the UK, only 13% of employees would be comfortable discussing a mental health issue in the workplace.

The HSE estimates that in 2019-2020, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.

What are the signs of poor mental health?

Common signs that someone in your workplace is suffering from poor mental health include:

  • Lateness and absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Lack of self-confidence or enjoyment
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Agitation and volatility
  • Being overwhelmed
  • A lack of enthusiasm to start or complete tasks

These signs could indicate someone is suffering from a mental health illness.

What are common mental health issues?

The three main mental health issues that affect the UK workforce are:

Depression: persistent sadness, a depressed mood, diminished interest in previously enjoyable activities and other symptoms that interfere with the ability to function in daily life.

Stress: any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Stress can be short term or long term. Chronic stress can take a serious toll on the body over time and have long-lasting health effects.

Anxiety: significant worry or fear that doesn’t go away and may even get worse over time. This worry tends to be constant and has a very negative and intrusive impact on a person’s quality of life.

What can you do to help yourself and others?

If you are struggling, there are many ways to look after your mental health. Talking about your feelings is a major first step. Keeping active, eating well, taking regular breaks and limiting alcohol intake can all help. Make sure you keep in touch with people and if things are getting too much for you, and you feel you can’t cope, make sure you ask for help.

If you suspect a colleague, friend or family member is struggling, there are some things you can do. Set time aside with no distractions and let them share as little or as much as they want to. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess what’s wrong. Keep your questions open ended, listen carefully, offer to help them in seeking professional support and know your limits. Ask for help if the problem is serious and you believe they are in immediate danger.

If we know the signs and how to help, why is mental health in the workplace still an issue?

Although things are improving, there’s still stigma and misunderstanding about mental health in the workplace. Increasing awareness of mental health can help people break their silence and start to build a more open and inclusive culture.

In a survey conducted by mental health charity Mind, 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’. In addition, 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance. Both of these figures need to change.

We need to create workplace cultures where people can be open about what they are experiencing, with managers confident and competent to discuss such matters. This will make it easier for people to talk about mental health concerns without fear, and also to reach out for help when they need it.

It is vital workplaces become environments where people feel safe to just be themselves.

The best thing we can all do to improve mental health in the workplace is TALK.



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