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Time to Talk Day: Mental health is a good place to start

It is important for business leaders and those at senior management levels within organisations to support those who may be reluctant to talk about their mental health and that starts with normalising these conversations at work.

People are being encouraged to talk about mental health on Thursday 2 February – Time to Talk Day 2023 – by starting conversations with colleagues, friends, and family.

As many as one in six employees may be experiencing a mental health difficulty in their workplace and might benefit from targeted mental health assistance. A lack of support can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism, staff turnover, and cost implications for businesses, which is why it is important to create an open and comfortable environment to talk about mental health at work.

For a lot of people, feelings of anxiety are overcome and tackled head-on, but for some, it all becomes too much, and the stress of a situation can lead to meetings and plans being cancelled, the person affected becoming more socially isolated, or they may experience a reduction in performance and productivity.

It is important for business leaders and those at senior management levels within organisations to support those who may be reluctant to talk about their mental health and that starts with normalising these conversations at work.

Here are some ways to encourage conversations on mental health in the workplace to better support employee mental health.

Listen & Educate
It can be challenging for someone to open up about how they’re truly feeling. If an employee decides to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings, don’t judge, lend an ear. Sometimes the most significant step of all is them admitting how they are feeling to someone, especially if they have been battling with their problems alone for a while.

Listen intently, be patient and educate yourself on what they may be dealing with. Psychoeducation plays a big role in the recovery of that person, so it can only help you to be more informed about their issues too. Remember you are not taking the role of a counsellor or therapist; explain avenues available for them to seek professional help and encourage them to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Spot the signs
If the person in question has opened up to you about how they’re feeling, then over time you’re likely to pick up on signs that tell you a little bit about how they might be coping. For example, they may stop responding to your work emails or calls, or they may be irritable, on edge, or lack energy for simple daily tasks. These behaviours may provide you with signs that they are in a difficult place, and you could consider what support you can offer. If you notice that they are struggling with their work relationships or workload, it’s crucial to encourage them to seek help.

Don’t treat anyone differently
If someone is experiencing mental health difficulties, they might already be feeling uncomfortable, confused, and sometimes misunderstood. Treating people any differently will only make them feel worse or lead them to feel like a burden. Positive adjustments may be needed to support an individual – and managers need to act without making the person feel like they are a problem.

People often easily pick up on any change of treatment, so where possible, carry on communicating as you would ordinarily or with any other employee. It also helps to ground them and bring a sense of ‘normal’ in their lives.

Be careful with your vocabulary
The point here is not to tiptoe around someone as if walking on eggshells, that makes your communication with them unnatural. Instead, be aware of phrases or words that are so often intertwined with mental health. An example would be “That’s so OCD”, which is essentially a throwaway comment said in response to a repeated act. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a complex condition, which can significantly impact an individual’s functioning, anxiety, and mood. This type of comment can be quite uncomfortable for someone who may be struggling with OCD.

The same goes for comments like “She’s so depressing.” These are inappropriate and can be distressing for people, no one likes to hear comments like this being made but often they are not in someone’s consciousness. It’s about being aware of the language you use around mental health, especially to the person who may be struggling with it.

The benefits of workplace mental health training?
Training helps everyone from line managers to executive leaders learn the tools for providing a great workplace culture around mental health, that is good for business. There is an opportunity to learn about the principles of early identification, bolstered with CBT evidence-based interventions to support employees. This will help to remove taboos surrounding mental health, vital to early detection and future-proofing employee mental wellbeing.

Other ways to support employees:

Tea & Chat
Set up a weekly tea and chat meeting for teams and departments to attend outside of their usual break times. We recommend setting this up in a comfortable environment and don’t forget you can do an online meeting too if your team is remote. Grab some refreshments, perhaps get outside, and talk about something neutral. Don’t discuss work.

Conversation starters:

  • Talk about hobbies

  • Talk about weekend or after work plans

  • Ask what made people smile today

  • Speak about any new books, films or TV series

  • Discuss favourite foods and recipes

Appoint a mental health champion
Enrol one person (or multiple people if you have a big team) to become your mental health champions. All businesses have first aiders who you can go to in case of a physical medical issue, but many still lag behind in providing mental health champions and first aiders who people can talk to and confide in.

By providing professionally delivered mental health training to your champions, you can develop mental health activities and peer-to-peer network support within your organisation, with mental health first aiders you are creating an environment in which the individual may feel more comfortable to discuss any issues they may be having.

Having the patience to listen to employees, introducing mental health champions and first aiders, and offering time to talk while working remotely are some helpful ways to encourage conversations on mental health at work.

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