Keeping well while at work

Mental health influences the way we think, feel, act, and relate to those around us, and that changes over time depending on a complexity of considerations such as environmental, biological or life experiences. The increasing intensification of workloads can influence mental health outcomes, and if you then think about how much time is spent working, that will give some perspective as to the importance of having healthier workplaces, and for the changing of mind-sets to one that normalises mental health.

Mental health in the workplace is multidimensional, and because it is a hidden disability you may not be aware that many of your colleagues with whom you spend considerable time are challenged by episodes of emotional and mental distress. There will also be colleagues living with long term mental health conditions, or you may be one of those employees struggling in the workplace with mental ill health or poor emotional wellbeing.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, on any given day there will be colleagues on the mental health continuum ranging from thriving, to struggling emotionally, to being ill at work, or having to take time off because they are unwell. What’s alarming is that even though awareness of mental health is evolving, there is still so much stigma, isolation, exclusion, and gossip in the workplace that invariably has triggering effects on a person’s emotional wellbeing. Workplaces can therefore be both rewarding and challenging at the same time.

What happens in many workplaces is that fear of discrimination causes non-disclosure, and even though disclosure has the potential to be beneficial to keeping a person safe, in keeping them in employment, and signposting them to help, but ,it can cause victimisation. That viewpoint is evident in the many stories of people who have chosen to self-disclose and consequently found themselves forced out of their jobs, ostracised or demoted.

There are also instances where managers have suspected that a member of staff is struggling, but opportunities to support them are missed because of lack of knowledge, confidence or skills. Instead the person is spoken about in hushed tones, making the managers complicit in reinforcing negative attitudes towards mental health.

Research by various academics, and case studies show where organisations that invested in, and had an embedded culture of health provision and health promotion had lower productivity loss and they attained greater return on investment. That knowledge of mental health challenges at work impacting on the bottom line figures i.e. profit margins is as good a reason as any for organisations to take a proactive approach. But, beyond the economic arguments there is also a social, moral and ethical obligations.

The recently published Thriving at Work – Stevenson / Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers Report (2017) layout out many of the arguments for prioritising mental health at work, and developing a framework of core standards for mental health in the workplace. They recommend that organisations:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  4. Provide your employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

It is also incumbent upon each employee to play a role in the mobilisation of change. That can be done by championing workplaces to develop and implement successful models of good practice that promote holistic wellbeing and work ability at the core of its human resources structures.

What we must also remember is that even if working environments in and of themselves can be contributors to mental health challenges, everyone has a personal responsibility for their own physical and mental health.

You can start the process of keeping well and thriving while at work by empowering yourself; committing to a routine of self-care such as exercise, relaxation, healthy eating; seeking support or an intervention as appropriate; managing workloads; and offering encouragement and support to others.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society.  Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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