Looking after you and your Employee’s Mental Health

World Mental Health Day

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October each year. This year, more so than ever before, affords the perfect opportunity for employers to re-evaluate the mental health provisions that are in the workplace.

Mental Health

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health condition this year according to Mind, a leading mental health charity. Given these statistics, it is very like that you, as a business owner/manager, will at some point, manage an individual with a mental health condition in your team and it is essential that you are able to support them.

Good and poor mental health is very subjective can look quite different from one person to the next. For example, one person’s presentation of good mental health can be how poor mental health presents in another.

Mental health conditions can develop as a result of experiences in both our personal and working lives and are often caused by a series of events, both work- and non-work-related which, when combined, can trigger or intensify poor mental health. Employees can also be affected directly or indirectly by the mental health of partners, dependants or other family members as well as that of their friends and colleagues.

Mental and physical health are completely entwined, our mental health has an impact on our physical health and vice versa.

Poor mental health can affect the way people think, feel and behave. In some cases, this can seriously disrupt a person’s ability to cope with day-to-day life, which in turn can have an impact on their relationships, work and overall quality of life.

For some, coming forward and asking for help is the obvious thing to do, and seeking help should be seen as a sign of strength. Unfortunately, many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness, so they just carry on in the hope that things might get better.

Create a Culture Conducive to Better Mental Health

However, you can help to shape the dynamic across your company by encouraging others to speak up about their feelings and emotions, should they feel the need.

Regular one-to-one meetings and team catch-ups should generate open and honest conversations, help you to get to know your team and create a supportive environment.

If you are concerned that someone is displaying early warning signs of poor mental health, it is important that you have a conversation with them sooner rather than later. Timing is critical; do not wait for the individual to display several warning signs. If you have genuine concerns, have a conversation with them before the situation deteriorates.

You should talk about the changes that caused you to be concerned, respectfully and appropriately.

Ask Questions

Examples of questions that you can use:

·         How are you feeling right now?

·         What would you like to happen? How?

·         You haven’t seemed yourself these past few weeks – is everything okay?

·         What support do you think would help you?

·         I’ve noticed that you’re getting into work a little later than usual, is everything okay?

·         I’ve noticed that the reports are coming in later than planned. Is everything okay with you?

·         You seem a little bit [down/frustrated/angry/agitated/upset] lately, is everything okay?

Encourage

Encourage your team member to open up by assuring them that you are concerned and there to help. Remember though, that you are not a medical professional and it is not your role to diagnose someone or to try and solve their problems. Often people simply need to be heard. You worrying that you need to solve the person’s problems is very likely to get in the way of you listening effectively and being a genuine source of support. Do not feel the need to fill any silences. Silence can be very powerful – the person may be thinking about what you have just asked them or absorbing what they have just said out aloud.

It is absolutely critical that you are not judgmental or dismissive in your manner or responses. Similarly, do not make assumptions about the person or their situation, some people find it enormously difficult to open up about their mental health so try to make things a little easier by keeping an open mind.

Focus on the Individual

Be aware that people can have different experiences of the same mental health condition, for example, two people who have been diagnosed with depression may experience it differently and as a consequence have different needs. It is important that you focus on the individual, not their diagnosis. Take the time to summarise what you have heard and understood, and try reflecting some of those things, for example, “you said earlier that you felt devastated by what happened last week, tell me more about that”.

Is Work the Issue?

Consider whether or not work is a contributing factor: During the conversation, try to establish if there is anything at work that might be contributing to the individual’s state of mind. Do not assume that it is nothing to do with work even if they initially tell you that everything at work is fine. You may need to prod a little, with tact and sensitivity, for them to feel comfortable enough to disclose any work-related issues.

Empathise!

Finally, you must show empathy and provide lots of reassurance. Let the person know that they can get through this, there is a lot of help and support out there and people can and do recover. Remind them that you are there to support them.

What Next?

Once you have had the conversation you will need to think about what comes next. What is going to happen as a result of the conversation? The content of the conversation that you had will, of course, determine what the next steps should be.

Try to get a clear commitment from the employee about what it is that they are going to do, together with an indication of when they plan to do it. This will allow you to follow up with them, gently, of course, to check what action they have taken and how it went.

Be flexible in your approach – the extent to which you need to monitor the situation, the level of support that you need to provide and any other actions that you need to take will vary depending on the severity, nature and complexity of the circumstances. Just like our physical health, mental health is fluid and can change from day to day, week to week. As a manager, you will need to adapt your support to suit the evolving situation.

You may wish to direct the individual to the following sources of support, which may be available HR; occupational health; access to private medical insurance, a private GP or health screening; access to an employee assistance programme; their GP; charities, eg Mind. NHS resources on mental health services, friends and family; online counselling services; and/or the Samaritans.

“You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup!”

Providing your team members with a safe space where they feel comfortable talking about the state of their mental health is very important. However, it is equally important that you take care of yourself and in doing so, you are regularly checking your own state of mental and physical wellbeing.

Check-in with your own mental health. How are your stress levels? How is your mood? Are there any warning signs that you have noticed? Who can you talk to? As people become more senior it can feel like there are fewer people around to talk to and confide in, and it can feel increasingly lonely. Take active steps to find someone you can talk to, whether it is someone inside the organisation or perhaps in a similar role in another organisation.

Stay connected with friends or family. Feeling that you belong is important for your overall sense of wellbeing. If you do not have support from friends or family think about local community groups that you can join.

Fairmont Legal’s Employment and HR Team is on hand to help you and help you help others.  Speak to a member of the team by calling 01204 866597 or email info@fairmontlegal.co.uk for a free consultation today.

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