Mental health at work: supporting your people

It’s in the news almost every day and affects everyone in some shape or form. In this article, our very own Amy, Manager at Attain, boldly shares her experience and we highlight what organisations can do support their people.

In our latest mental health insight, Amy shares her first experience, prior to joining Attain, with work related stress and highlights the importance of both recognising it as well as being aware of the support that might be available.

“I will never forget the moment about three years ago, while I was driving home from work when my vision darkened and I suddenly experienced unusual tingling sensations in my fingertips and toes.

Minutes later I luckily managed to park in a local business centre where I knew my friend worked and I called her. When she picked up the phone I was hyperventilating and by the time she got to me she had to call an ambulance because my breathing was so out of balance that my toes had splayed and my hands and arms had curled into my body. I couldn’t physically move, and I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought I would never see my little girl again.

Later I learnt after discussion with the paramedic that I had experienced a panic attack, triggered by severe stress at work.”

So why am i telling you all this? I want to lead by example. Speaking up about mental health at work is exactly what mental health experts are advising is the way forward to reduce stigma and drive change in the workplace.

Every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere dies through suicide

Poppy Jaman, the Chief Executive of City Mental Health Alliance, and previously co-founder of Mental Health First Aid said in a recent podcast published by The Kings Fund[1], that every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere in the world, dies by suicide. She says mental health issues are a widespread and a global problem across all sectors of industry. Mental health is present in all parts of society, including parents, colleagues at work and throughout communities. Poppy says that in 20 years, mental health will be the biggest cause of disability worldwide.

The NHS Long Term Plan recognises that mental health is a significant issue and is committing to significantly increasing investment by 2023/24 in an attempt to redesign core community mental health services.

In addition, it commits to expansion of services for children and young people, in particular, improving care for people with learning disabilities and autism. There are already organisations providing supportive change. For example, The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership commissioned a Mentally Healthy Schools pilot which is showing positive results demonstrating that schools are a good environment to influence health behaviours and improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing[2].

Creating ‘integrated lives’ at work

More workplaces are adapting and evolving to create ‘integrated lives’, blending work and home in an agile, family friendly and caring responsibility friendly way, aiming in turn to increase the performance of their employees. A major biomedical research charity ‘The Wellcome Trust’ announced last month that the Trust was exploring a move to a 4 day week for its staff.  The director of policy and chief of staff Ed Whiting said “Like many organisations, Wellcome is continually looking at how we can increase the impact we make towards our charitable mission and

improve staff wellbeing. Moving to a four-day week is one of a number of very early ideas that we are looking at that might be beneficial to welfare and productivity for everyone at Wellcome.”[3]

What can we do to support our personal wellbeing?

In my experience, it has taken a number of years to build the knowledge and the

networks of support that I needed to begin to put in place appropriate strategies to manage the stress and anxiety I was feeling.

I had the resources to get private counselling so I didn’t have to sit on waiting lists. Sadly, this isn’t a privilege that many have access to. I got support from friends who are practitioners in mindfulness and focusing techniques[5].

I learnt how to ‘stop’ and relax, which takes a lot of practise for some people. For me this involved disciplining myself, including not to log on in non-working hours. I rescued a dog and walk her daily and I joined a boot camp to get exercise three times a week. I created ‘empathy’ calls with people who were willing and able to give me time when I needed it to just listen to what was going on for me. After a time these calls became reciprocal as my mental health wellbeing became more balanced and I found I could give back. In fact, I started to volunteer with a local Alcohol Project in the Community, supporting individuals who are in recovery from substance misuse and mental health issues. Most importantly, I changed my job and began working for Attain. I can honestly say that taking these steps supported my mental health wellbeing to significantly increase and I am far more resilient to pressure now.

Working for an organisation that acknowledges mental health

People

Our jobs can be complex, are often timebound and pressure filled, and that won’t change anytime soon for me in the world of procurement. However, it feels manageable now because I have a supportive team around me and I work for an organisation that acknowledges mental health and puts ‘wellbeing’ at the heart of its values that are lived and breathed at all levels of the organisation, which certainly makes the world of difference to me.

We have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which offers assistance such as counselling, financial and wellbeing advice. We also have peace of mind from having income support and insurance, should it be needed if long-term sick. On a day-to-day basis we have support from either our line manager, delivery manager or a member of the dedicated Values team – who are available to support staff on all work-related and overall wellbeing matters.

Lead by example

When I listened to The Kings Fund Podcast, what struck me is Poppy’s advice, which is to lead by example, speaking openly about mental health in the work place and recognising that mental health wellbeing is integral to the values of a corporation – if you want to go beyond the minimum of duty of care, and attract, retain and grow the best talent in your organisation.

Therefore, perhaps we can ask ourselves these two important questions:

  1. What impacts or improves your mental health and wellbeing?
  2. What else are we willing and able to do to step up into this space and support each other and our organisations to ensure we are all valuing our own and each other’s mental health wellbeing at work and home?
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