Today is World mental health day. This year’s theme – set by the World Federation for Mental Health – is suicide prevention. It’s important we all make efforts to uphold the positive mental health of our employees and colleagues but how do we best approach our co-workers when they appear to be struggling? Earlier this year, Socitm Finance and Operations Director, Chantelle Denny, demonstrated her commitment to our key Health and Wellbeing policy area by qualifying as a mental health first aider. Here she explains how to best to support those experiencing episodes of poor mental health in the workplace.
The stigma that has surrounded mental health is gradually disappearing and we are now actively encouraged, by TV and social media campaigns, to talk about it openly. Charity’s such as Mind and Rethink mental illness run the Time to Change campaign. The Heads Together campaign is even fronted by members of our own royal family.
Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse are common. Research suggests one in four people experience some form of mental health issue over the course of a year. As managers, we are becoming increasingly more likely to encounter mental ill health in the workplace. We might well be approached by a concerned employee and are also best placed to notice a change in behaviour that may be the consequence of a mental health issue. When and if this happens, we need to be informed about how to deal with it. A recent survey suggests that less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any sort of mental health training.
Historically, we may have been given a policy that says, simply: “report to HR”. However, advice is now changing. We are now more likely to be told that it may do more harm than good to refer them onto someone else. Instead, we should be talking about saving lives.
Earlier this year, I attended at mental health first aid (MHFA) course through St. John Ambulance. This was to broaden my understanding of mental health. I believe it will not be long before mental health first aid is a compulsory part of the public sector. It certainly made me consider ways in which to support our Socitm members in preparing for such a time.
Everybody goes through periods of poor mental health. Much like we get a cold. Normally, it will pass with a little bit of time, rest and recuperation. We must not assume that a period of poor mental health means that the person has, or is likely to develop, a mental illness.
But what should you do if you identify that somebody has a mental illness and they may require some support? The advice from MHFA England is:
- Approach, Assess Assist
- Listen non- judgementally
- Give instruction
- Encourage professional support
- Encourage other support.
Approach them at a good time and in a comfortable environment. Assess whether this person is an immediate danger to themselves or others and offer them assistance. If the person is in crisis, call 999 or 111. If the person is not in an acute crisis, encourage them to talk about how they feel. Listen to them. Listen without any preconceptions or judgement. Tell them that you accept the way they feel and ask them if they would like you to suggest further support options.
Our sector carries its own particular stresses and strains for the talented, committed and caring people who tirelessly try to improve service delivery for people often without the financial investment more readily made in equivalent roles in the private sector.
We are all making strides to improve mental wellbeing through initiatives such as flexible working, incentive and appreciation programmes and ensuring there are quiet area within the physical environments our people work in. We do also need to know when and how to step in and safeguard their wellbeing when your support is most required. This guidance really helped me. I hope it assists you in supporting your colleagues, your teams and yourselves.