Supporting Mental Health at Work: Strategies for a Positive Workplace
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Good mental health at work is essential for both individuals and organizations. Research shows that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive, with increased productivity of up to 12%. So, it’s crucial to address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
In this guide, you’ll learn strategies to support your own mental health at work, how to reach out to a distressed colleague, and ways to create a mentally healthy workplace for everyone.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health refers to our thoughts, feelings, and ability to cope with life’s ups and downs. Just like physical health, mental health requires attention and care. When we enjoy good mental health, we have a sense of purpose, energy, and the ability to overcome challenges.
Our mental health can fluctuate as circumstances change and as we move through different stages in our lives. Distress is a word used to describe times when a person is not coping well, whether due to home issues, work pressures, or the onset of mental health problems like depression.
Early recognition of distress allows for timely support, making it essential to be aware of our mental well-being.
Mental Health Problems
Most of us experience times of feeling down, stressed, or frightened. While these feelings often pass, some individuals develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, which can significantly impact their daily lives. Mental health problems can have various causes, including poverty, genetics, childhood trauma, discrimination, or ongoing physical illness.
Research shows that most people have some experience of a mental health problem, and approximately one in six people experience symptoms of a mental health problem each week. It’s important to recognize that different mental health problems affect people in different ways, and individual experiences may vary widely.
It’s crucial to understand the experience of each individual rather than relying solely on a diagnosis. For example, someone diagnosed with schizophrenia may be able to manage their condition well, while another person with anxiety may experience severe symptoms.
Recognizing a Mental Health Problem
Challenging circumstances in our home or work life can impact our mental health. Mental health problems can manifest through various symptoms and signs. If you find that difficult feelings are hindering your ability to function, have a significant impact on your relationships, persist for several weeks, or lead to thoughts of suicide, seeking help from a medical professional is crucial.
At work, you may notice signs such as increased fatigue, uncharacteristic mistakes, difficulty finding motivation, declining timekeeping, irritability, isolation, distraction, procrastination, or an excessive workload.
However, it’s important to note that individuals may not always recognize these signs in themselves. Colleagues who observe these warning signs can play a vital role in connecting them to mental health awareness and support.
Breaking the Silence on Mental Health
Despite increasing awareness, sharing mental health problems can still be daunting due to fear of discrimination and shame. In order to create a workplace where people feel safe discussing mental health concerns, it’s essential to build a culture that values authenticity and openness.
By creating an environment where people can truly be themselves, individuals will feel more comfortable speaking up and seeking help when needed. It’s important to remember that the decision to disclose distress at work is not one people take lightly. Employers must strive to make their workplaces a safe space for these conversations.
Legal Protection for Mental Health
Legal rights protect mental health in the workplace. In most cases, ongoing mental health problems meet the definition of disability under equality legislation, which ensures protection against discrimination and harassment. Employers must provide reasonable adjustments to support employees with mental health problems in their work.
Reasonable adjustments may include changes to working patterns, provision of necessary equipment or software, excusal from events impacting mental health, and addressing bullying or discriminatory behaviors. It’s important to be aware of these legal rights and obligations to create an inclusive and supportive workplace environment.
Looking After Your Mental Health at Work
Each of us can take steps to improve our mental health and build resilience. Self-care is a skill that needs practice, particularly during times of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. Consider the following evidence-based ways to enhance your mental health:
Talking About Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings with a trusted colleague, manager, or supervisor can help maintain good mental health and manage troubled times. It’s essential to have someone who will listen and provide support when needed.
Regular exercise, even just 30 minutes a day, boosts self-esteem, concentration, and overall well-being. Find physical activities you enjoy and incorporate them into your daily routine.
A healthy diet that includes regular meals and plenty of water not only benefits physical health but also supports mental well-being. Plan for mealtimes at work, choose nutritious options, and try to eat away from your desk.
Although alcohol may temporarily change our mood, relying on it to cope with fear or loneliness is not a healthy solution. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption, particularly during work-related events.
Keeping in Touch
Strong relationships are crucial for mental health. Nurture supportive relationships at work, maintain friendships, and stay connected with family. Loneliness can have a negative impact on our health, so actively engage in social interactions.
Asking for Help
Remember that none of us are superhuman. It’s okay to ask for help when you feel tired, overwhelmed, or in need of support. Seek assistance from your manager, HR department, or employee assistance program. Additionally, reach out to your GP for professional help if necessary.
Taking a Break
Creating a work-life balance is important for mental health. Take regular breaks, go for walks during lunchtime, and separate work time from personal time. Prioritize sleep and ensure you get enough rest to maintain good mental health.
Doing Something You’re Good At
Engage in activities that you enjoy and excel at. Hobbies and interests provide a break from stress and boost self-esteem. Make time for these activities and share them with colleagues if possible.
Accepting Who You Are
Accepting yourself and recognizing your uniqueness is crucial for good mental health. Focus on your strengths, be compassionate to yourself, and set realistic expectations. Work towards self-acceptance and self-care, which may require ongoing effort.
Practicing mindfulness, such as paying deliberate attention to the present moment, can enhance mental well-being. Consider incorporating mindfulness exercises into your daily routine to increase self-awareness, reduce stress, and improve overall mental health.
Caring for Others
Supporting and caring for others can boost your mental health and well-being. Be attentive and empathetic towards colleagues in need, offer support and mentoring, and create a supportive team culture. Additionally, engage in volunteering activities to gain a different perspective and contribute to the community.
Supporting a Colleague
Having conversations about mental health may feel challenging, but starting with sincere and warm inquiries can make a difference. When reaching out to a colleague, choose a comfortable time and place, actively listen, manage your own emotions, and provide reassurance and encouragement.
If someone expresses thoughts of suicide, it’s important to ask them directly and encourage them to seek immediate help. Provide them with helpline numbers or accompany them when calling a healthcare professional.
Supporting a colleague with ongoing mental health problems involves understanding their needs, respecting their experiences, and offering ongoing support. Remember, the individual themselves is the best expert on their own needs, so always communicate and ask for their input.
Line Manager Responsibilities
As a line manager, you play a vital role in supporting staff experiencing distress or mental health problems. Establish compassionate and effective relationships with your team members, provide training on mental health support, and ensure appropriate support services are accessible.
Line managers should handle absence and return to work processes skillfully, consider mental health concerns in performance management and appraisals, and provide particular support during times of organizational change. By understanding and accommodating employees’ mental health needs, you can create a mentally healthy work environment.
Employer Checklist for a Mentally Healthy Workplace
To create a mentally healthy workplace, employers should:
- Prioritize mental health and well-being as core assets of the organization.
- Support compassionate and effective line management relationships.
- Address discrimination and promote equality.
- Value the diversity and transferable skills that lived experience of mental health problems bring.
- Encourage disclosure and create a culture of authenticity and openness.
- Provide resources, training, and support to promote mental health in the workplace.
By implementing these strategies, organizations can foster mental health, support employees, and create a positive and productive work environment.
Supporting mental health at work is crucial for individuals, teams, and organizations. By practicing self-care, reaching out to colleagues in need, and creating mentally healthy workplaces, we can create an environment where everyone can thrive. Remember, every conversation and action can make a difference in someone’s life, so let’s prioritize mental health in the workplace and support one another on this journey of well-being.