Welcome to the million-dollar question!
It’s actually a multi-billion dollar question. To the tune of £105.2 billion every year and counting.
Accenture recently stated that poor mental health doesn’t just affect 1 in 4 adults… it’s actually affecting 9 out of 10 of us! Would you define that as a crisis? I would.
Whether directly or indirectly, 9 in 10 adults in the workplace are experiencing mental health issues or directly supporting someone who is.
I deliver a lot of mental health first aid courses in companies across England every year. I’ve seen first-hand the profound difference it can make when simple changes are made and how attitudes are changed by a little understanding.
Here are three real ways we can start to change the culture of the workplace to prevent mental health issues…
1. Understand what mental health is
Over the last 10 years I’ve seen the conversation move from ‘Mental Health = Mental Illness’ to ‘We all have mental health, both like we have physical health, and it can be good or poor’.
This is a fantastic shift in mindset toward mental health and mental illness.
One of my favourite definitions is this:
“Mental health is the emotional and spiritual resilience which enables us to enjoy life, survive pain, disappointment and sadness”
Therefore poor mental health adversely impacts our emotional and spiritual resilience leading to the exact opposite of what we need to survive what life can throw at us.
It affects every area in a person’s life. It’s not the fact that bad things happen and that someone can get bruised by it. It’s when the bruises don’t heal and a person becomes far more susceptible to damage.
2. Reduce the stigmas and discrimination
We don’t mean to discriminate against people but unfortunately we do. For example, if you walked into the office with a broken leg, I’m pretty sure people would get the door for you, offer you a chair. Perhaps they may even offer to do things for you!
However, if someone was a bit short with you at work, most likely you might respond in kind and before we know it, the whole atmosphere in the office sinks down a black hole.
What if that prickliness wasn’t ‘normal’ for that person? You’d need to stop and evaluate, “is there something else going on here?” You might need to ask if they are ok.
Mental ill health can produce un-enjoyable but normal-looking behaviours. Without seeking to understand the motives behind behaviours, we can all unintentionally contribute to mental health illnesses.
3. Make help accessible before illness arises.
We know there are many reasons why people become mentally unwell.
However, stress is the number one cause.
Therefore if we know that someone around us is experiencing stress, regardless of the reason, we can encourage them to find help.
Let’s put it like this… if I feel the signs and symptoms of a common cold heading my way, I begin to protect against it. How? I go to bed early, drink more water, take medication.
Because let’s face it, if I get a common cold, that’s man flu, and that’s a near death experience.
Equally, if I feel stressed at the moment and perhaps the stress is increasing, I need to take action to look after myself. Otherwise I’ll pay the price and so will everyone around me.
How? It could be as simple as saying no to some stuff, talking to a friend or going to bed early. Perhaps I could book an appointment to see a doctor so I have an expert’s advice.
Somehow in our culture we don’t blame a healthy person for becoming physically ill but we often treat a person for becoming mentally ill as if it is their fault!
Please don’t get caught in this trap.
People die from mental health illnesses just like they do from any other organ failure. The most practical thing we can do is encourage mental wellness, just like encourage good diet and fitness.
Peter Larkum is an award-winning Mental Health First Aid instructor (Elite, Gold Standard Award). Peter delivers mental health first aid course in companies across England and lives in Winchester, along with his wife and three young children.
If you would like to attend or send your team to a MHFA course in Winchester or London, please visit peterlarkum.com to find a date that suits you.