It’s a worrying state of affairs when in 2017, 38% of employees say they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health with their colleagues for fear of repercussions. The research by the Mental Health Foundation found a third of all workers were too scared to talk about the subject with senior management for fear of being marginalised or even sacked.
This shows that despite efforts to open up a dialogue around mental health, and highlight the need for more support, we have a long way to go before it is treated as it should be. In aid of this year’s World Mental Health Day, with a particular focus on mental health in the workplace, here are just a few of the steps we can all take to look out for our colleagues and make our workplaces more mental health friendly.
Talk about it
One of the main ways we can all work to tackle stigma around mental health issues is to talk about it, openly and frankly. So many people suffer in silence due to a fear of speaking out and being misunderstood. No one should feel ashamed about struggling with their mental health, and talking about it openly at work encourages an atmosphere where people feel like they can speak out.
Also make sure to avoid careless language that perpetuates the issue – no one is ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’. Use positive language that shows you’re supportive, and if there’s anything you’re unsure about, remember: it only takes five minutes to read up on it.
Look out for your colleagues
You work with the people around you day in, day out, but often you’re so trapped in your own work bubble you fail to notice any changes in behaviour. So even if you’re stressed about meeting that looming deadline, don’t forget to look out for those around you. If you notice someone struggling more than usual – perhaps they’re turning up to work late, struggling to submit work on time or seem more stressed than normal – take the time to ask if they’re ok.
Certain work cultures can foster a formality that prevents people from forming strong friendships with your colleagues, but remember they’re not just ‘the competition’. Be that friendly face they need, and you’ll be grateful when they return the favour.
You might be unsure about how to act if someone confides in you about mental health issues, but if you feel like it’s appropriate, don’t be afraid to offer help. You don’t need to be a mental health expert to do this, just show some compassion and find out if there’s anything that can be done to improve their work experience – for example, flexible working hours, more work sharing, or extra support for certain projects.
Work is not a survival of the fittest test. Needing extra help is not a sign of failure, so make sure your colleagues know this by offering help when you think they need it.
Stop encouraging an unhealthy work ethic
It’s not impressive to work over your lunch break or stay at your desk until midnight finishing off that project. Encouraging this kind of unhealthy work culture creates an atmosphere in which people think they must work above and beyond the norm to keep up with others and show the same level of commitment. With a study from Mind finding that 42% of workers have considered resigning due to stress, the problem is clearly embedded in multiple aspects of work culture.
If you don’t have time to finish everything on your to-do list during your scheduled work hours, speak to your manager about shifting your workload or look at small changes you can make to ensure more productivity in your day. You should never be expected to work until 2am, and sacrifice your own personal health and wellbeing, to get the job done.
And allow time off when needed
If you have the flu or a broken leg, no one would bat an eyelid if you asked for some time off, but apparently the same can’t always be said for mental health issues. In fact, when a boss praised his employee for taking a ‘mental health day off’, it made national headlines for being so refreshingly positive.
While this is a great step and brought some much needed attention to the issue, we still need to push for work environments where no one feels like they might be frowned upon for taking time off for their mental health. Avoid any kind of derogatory language that might make someone feel marginalised for doing so, and encourage your colleagues to take some time off if you think they need it.