Mental Health At Work: Take Action

30/09/2016 12:07

Hands up if you've got mental health!

When I start presentations with this statement, more often than not it's met with some shuffling of feet, shifting of eyes, hands firmly clenched to thighs. Some people simply don't know how to react. The fact is that 100% of us have mental health, just as 100% of us have physical health, and both can vary from day to day, week to week and that's okay - that is normal. Think about it, how many people do you know that have had an entire year with absolutely no physical ailments - no colds, no grazes, no headaches? So, why should it be surprising then that our mental health is any different?

When 100% of us understand that 100% of us have mental health, then the mental health culture at work will change - 100%. Until then let's strive at least to hit that tipping point.

When I was interviewing people during the research for our dramatic e-learning programme, Headtorch WORKS, I would ask,

"What is the most common response to someone with mental health issues at work?"

And the response was nearly always the same,

"People avoid it..."
"Why?" I would ask
"They're scared of what the person might say or do..."
"So what happens?"
"Nothing... until it reaches crisis point"
"And then?"
"They panic!"

If someone trips and breaks their leg or scuffs their toe at work, the accident book is completed. Yet when someone's mood and behaviour changes - for example they stop meeting targets or their levels of concentration drop then what's the protocol? I'm not suggesting it should be logged in a book, but action definitely needs to be taken. Without a positive mental health culture, you're more likely to hear reactions like this echoing round the office:

"He better start pulling his weight."
"What's up with her? She's all over the place."
"Hey watch out, if you get any happier, that face of yours might crack."

These kinds of responses create a culture that is closed and fearful. They promote stigma. They lead to unsupportive behaviours; blame, bullying, isolation - a perpetual negative cycle. Ultimately this culture loses business talent, drive and reputation - it directly impacts the bottom line.

At Headtorch we advocate a mental health culture that CARES. The CARES© Values Model stands for Courage, Awareness, Respect, Empathy and Sustainability. These values align with our mantra - take action because doing nothing is not an option.

How do you put these values into practice? It's all about decision-making. Let's say you notice your colleague Jo has been having one too many headaches recently. Although he is the quiet sort, Jo can now often be heard stomping down the corridor, losing his cool at meetings and tutting loudly at his computer.

How would you react? The values of CARES would neither let you ignore these differences in mood and behaviour nor allow you to complain about him. Instead, you'd take notice of the changes in Jo.

You'd have the courage to speak to him or to voice your concern with someone who can support him directly. You might not like his current behaviour but you always respect him. Jo needs your support and empathy now more than ever. You continue to look out for him. This could mean anything from regularly chatting with Jo, to standing up to colleagues if you hear them gossiping. It could after all, be you.

"In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health." (H&S Executive)

Ideally these type of values, need to be embraced from the top down. When they are, you can sense it. At work I believe that we have an impact on our colleagues' mental health and well-being and that everyone has a responsibility toward each other, regardless of where we are in the chain of command. Are you creating a culture that CARES? It's no use passing the buck,

"I'd do something but what's the point? When they stop doing this...then I'll..."

There will always be constraints, conditions are never ideal, so what are you going to do about it? Nothing will change the mental health culture at work if we allow prejudices to win.

When you adopt the values of CARES, you take action.

It's about being human. That's what counts - in more ways than one.

100% of us have mental health. To celebrate our mental health at work take a few minutes to join our campaign leading up to 10th October, World Mental Health Day. To participate click here.