It’s World Mental Health Day, whilst awareness of mental health in the workplace is so much higher than a few years ago these days are still useful reminders of what we should be considering everyday.
Stigma is still a significant issue in preventing us talking about mental health, particularly amongst men. 60% of people say that discrimination and stigma are as damaging or more damaging than the symptoms of their mental health.
Breaking down stigma will have huge benefits to those going through any mental health issues. But firstly, I want to define what we mean by mental health. In my experience (I’m not someone who has any medical background in this), the focus is way too much on diagnosis. As with physical health, some days we are just not at full health, we can’t always put a finger on exactly what that means, it may just be a collection of symptoms. Mental health, just like physical health we all have, mental illness is something some people (1 in 3 is the commonly quoted statistic) will experience.
There are so many things that happen in life that affect our mental health, many of which don’t lead to any diagnosis and will impact us to varying degrees. Divorce, moving house, death and serious illness are those commonly recognised to cause us stress. Some of these things may cause stress and pressure points in our lives, these experiences may go further and cause us trauma.
These are the everyday things we talk about, there are so many other things that happen commonly but are less talked about. Issues like abusive relationships, traumatic birth, miscarriage, involvement in or witness to an accident or traumatic event. These things may trigger trauma responses, those responses will be variable and don’t always warrant a diagnosis.
As individuals we all respond differently to these situations, we may even respond differently to these situations at different times in our lives. How we respond to a situation now will be impacted by our experiences in the past.
What we do know is that leaving your problems at the door isn’t a realistic expectation of people. Whilst there are times getting our heads into work is helpful to take our minds off the stress we’re experiencing at home, it only delays the stress. The reality is, that issue is still there, it is still part of our life. In the same way that many of us will take a stressful day at work home with us. Many of us recognise the benefit of being able to offload our stressful day at work by talking through with friends and family. There is rarely the same support the other way around.
We cannot expect employers to be experts in supporting employees, schemes like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can offer this support from trained counsellors. If employees can talk about those things impacting their life, they are less likely to call in sick and more likely to be able to maintain performance. There are many occasions where just talking through an issue can be hugely beneficial, the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ certainly has value.
In reality we often overthink this stuff, expensive wellbeing initiatives are not necessarily the solution. Provide employees the opportunity to talk, particularly if they are experiencing stress at work. Recognise mental health as an everyday part of life, break down the stigma by allowing people to talk. Not just allowing people to talk but responding with language that isn’t judgemental and recognises we all deal with things differently. Breaking down that stigma, resolving or at least supporting the things causing stress in work will benefit your business by increasing performance, reducing absence and reducing staff turnover.
This isn’t big, it’s not expensive, making the change from the top, breaking down the stigma and encouraging people to talk will make a difference.