Time to change our attitudes towards mental health at work

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, Hobie Walker, qualified counsellor and AML’s Head of Wellbeing, looks at mental health in the workplace.

Most of us don’t think twice about bemoaning our lack of physical fitness or talking about our efforts to get fit. Whether it is giving up smoking or cutting down on sugary foods; becoming vegan or training for a marathon, we know how to get physically healthy. And there are gyms around every corner and HIIT classes in the park. At AML we have a running club, yoga and massage. If you want to get fit, you don’t have to look very far to find a way.

Looking after and talking about our mental health is more difficult. With mental health problems being one of the main drivers of disability worldwide, 1 in 6 people will have experienced a mental health problem in the last week. The recent growth in “wellbeing practices” is starting to address this with Mental Health First Aiders and mindfulness classes. Movements like Minds@Work and InsideOut. are raising awareness and working to reduce the stigma around mental health issues by encouraging people to tell their stories. So, things are starting to move in the right direction, but there is still a way to go.

For a lasting change in our workplaces, it is important to change the culture from the top down to enable attitudes of acceptance and openness towards mental health issues. Creating a space to talk, e.g. part of normal one-to-one meetings and a culture of listening, will make it easier for people to be more open about any struggles they may be having. Feeling safe about the option to talk about our mental health issues – such as anxiety or depression – normalises them, and in turn, makes them feel more manageable.

Geoff McDonald, co-founder of Minds@Work, believes that the most limiting resource to the success of an organisation is the energy of its people. Our energy is made up of our physical, emotional and mental health, as well as our purpose. This is what we bring to our workplace. Recovery is important – just as we can’t exercise continuously without recovery time, so it is with work.

Here at AML, a member of staff had had a couple of bouts of stress/depression in the past. When they felt themselves feeling a little burnt out, and their mood dipping again, they felt able to talk to senior staff about it. They took a little time off and made a speedy recovery,

“It was great to be able to talk openly about it and be listened to. This meant it could be nipped in the bud before it got too bad. I was soon back at work as good as, if not better than before, with renewed vigour and enjoyment”

And prevention is even better than a cure so at AML we encourage staff to put forward their ideas to make our place of work the best it can be via our suggestion box. We are now considering a funky Wellness Pod, where staff can take a 20-minute time-out, to reset their thinking, have a mini-meditate or just have a power-nap.

Mental Health Awareness week, reminds us to look again at what we are doing to build an environment that is accepting of us as normal human beings who sometimes suffer from tiredness, anxiety and/or depression. But also one that enables us to take responsibility for our own self-care.