Wellbeing at work
We all have ‘mental health’, just as we all have ‘physical health’. In the same way our physical health gets better or worse according to things like our diet and lifestyle, hereditary genetics or maybe an accident, our mental health can also change.
Throughout our lives many of us experience dips in our mental wellbeing. We might be stressed at work, experience bereavement or a difficult event and for some of us there doesn’t seem to be a reason at all – it just happens. However, there isn’t a magical wall which springs up between those of us who struggle with anxiety when work is stressful or those of us who respond to stress with a psychotic episode and those who don’t. We are all people who are in pain and deserve compassion, support and understanding. Talking about mental wellbeing at work helps us to knock down that magical wall between us.
So, my first challenge to all of us working in mental health: let’s practice what we preach and use World Mental Health Day to talk about our own mental wellbeing in the workplace.
If we accept that we all have mental health, then it follows that we all need to look after it. We know that to be physically healthy we need a balanced diet, exercise and to avoid drinking or smoking too much. Most of us know the signs of a cold or infection and know what action to take. When we see a colleague at work who looks under the weather we tell them to go home and rest or see their GP. So why don’t we do the same with our mental wellbeing? If we took time to consider the things which make us mentally unhealthy I’m sure we all could produce a list. I’m sure we could also pinpoint some of the signs we are starting to become mentally unwell. But, we don’t talk about and act on this knowledge in the same way. Why? Is it stigma? Shame? I think both contribute to our comparable silence.
So, challenge two: those of us who want to challenge stigma, let’s start talking about managing our mental wellbeing.
Let’s make it ok to say, ‘Can I talk to you about how I’m feeling?’ To rise to my own challenge, I’ll explain a little about how I manage my own wellbeing. Firstly, I don’t always get it right and try to use every day to learn about myself and what helps or hinders my wellbeing. I have a plan which reminds me of the things which trigger my wellbeing to decline and what I can do to help myself. I practice mindfulness, yoga (sort of!), spend time with family and friends and spend lots of time at the seaside!
Mental Health is an important topic for our workplaces. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that 91 million work days are lost each year in the UK to mental ill health. Cost to employers is estimated to be nearly £26 billion each year. Mental health doesn’t affect a discreet ‘them’ who have nothing to do with ‘us’ – it is ‘we’, which is why it is all our responsibilities to do something about it. Whether you want to help people improve their mental wellbeing for economic reasons or because you want people not to suffer alone, you have a role to play in making it happen.
Challenge three: we need to stop mental health being a secret word in the workplace and we need support options for all staff who are struggling with their wellbeing at work.
Those of us who work in mental health services need to take extra care of our staff, who do a brilliant job and often walk alongside people they support in their darkest times. Staff empathise, listen and are with people in distress and, as their employers, we must be there for our staff to offload their distress at seeing people they support in pain. At Certitude we’re developing a staff wellbeing strategy which will include support and tools for staff and for teams. We’ve also developed our Top Tips for mental wellbeing for all of us to use.
People who have experienced mental ill health are some of the strongest, wisest and most inspirational people I know. They have endured much in their life and grown stronger and more insightful because of it. We can all learn from each other’s insight and experiences.