Mental Health in the Workplace

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we wanted to share how we are Feed It Back are taking Mental Health at Work seriously. We recognise that some of our employees have or are having their own battle with Mental Health. Equally, they may be supporting someone close to them who is struggling with their mental health.

We have 3 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) in the business who are on hand to support anyone who is struggling. In addition, the MHFA team have established a team-wellbeing slack channel and are sharing tips and advice to everyone in the business. 

We urge any business to recognise the importance of Mental Health at Work and to start making some small changes to support your teams. We asked our Mental Health First Aiders some questions to help with this mission and here’s what they said…

You recently did some formal training to become a Mental Health First Aider, were there any eye openers from this training at all? 

MHFA 1: For me the statistics on how common mental health problems can be, were a big eye opener. It has a stigma despite it being a very common place issue. Even more so with recent events such as COVID and the transition to remote work.

MHFA 2: I became a qualified MHFA three years ago during the pandemic, and at that time, there was a lot of uncertainty about when life would return to normal and how it would affect us daily. It was during my training that I came to understand the vast scale of mental health and how it impacts so many people.

MHFA 3: For me, good mental health is vital to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive and flourish in whatever they put their mind to – be it hitting that deadline or being particularly proud of a piece of work, or just as important, meeting their personal goals. As colleagues, we spend nearly a quarter of all our hours in a single week together, so we’re in a great position to be able to support each other, no matter what we’re going through.

What are you trying to achieve as a Mental Health First Aider?

MHFA 1: Support for those who need it. As someone who has experienced a significant traumatic event, I have had my own battled with anxiety for some time. It took a real change in my perspective to understand than it’s ok to reach out for support. Notably it’s ok to speak to a doctor. Mental health problems can be more than just a feeling, it can be a full-on biological condition which your GP may be able to help with through medication and therapy sessions.

MHFA 2: I aspire to establish a secure and welcoming environment for my colleagues, where they feel comfortable enough to share their concerns with me or the MHFA team. Additionally, I aim to offer assistance and guide them towards helpful resources, allowing them to practice self-care.

What do you enjoy most about taking on this responsibility?

MHFA 1: Having the skillset to be able to provide assistance to my colleagues.

MHFA 2: Firstly it’s wonderful to be a part of a team that values support and inclusivity. Second to that it’s knowing that the work I do with the MHFA team is helping to break down barriers to promote mental health awareness in the workplace, it’s incredibly rewarding! 

What future ideas do you have to continue the work at Feed It Back as a MHFA?

MHFA 1: For me, it’s all about de-stigmatising and spreading awareness, having colleagues understand that there are resources within and outside of the company that can help them. We have some weekly posts and activities which try to promote positivity but for me a personal goal is to have our colleagues know, if they experience difficult times they know exactly who they can reach out too.

MHFA 2: My goal is to offer quarterly wellness packages to our employees and provide dedicated 1:1 time for colleagues to receive support, such as through a program like “Time to Talk Tuesday.” Additionally, I hope that by this time next year, we can offer company-wide wellness days and comprehensive healthcare plans to prioritise the well-being of our staff.

MHFA 3: As well as direct, personal (and confidential) support, it’s really important for us as a team to raise awareness – to make people stop and think and realise that however they might be feeling they’re not alone. Giving people that space to consider their own wellbeing is key.

What should businesses look out for in terms of signs that an individual is struggling?

MHFA 1: This is a difficult question to answer. An exercise we did on the course was, draw someone who is experiencing depression. You may picture a person with a frown or sad look on their face. In reality it’s quite common for people who are struggling to put on a happy face and pretend that they are ok. Context is important, observing behaviour noticing changes in people, just asking a question… “Is everything ok?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting a bit differently?” Asking a simple phrase can make a real difference.

MHFA 2: Some generic advice to be aware of:

  • Presenteeism – the act of showing up for work without being productive.
  • Sickness.
  • Constantly working past normal operating hours.
  • Not booking time off (Reluctance to take entitled time off could be a sign that an employee is worried they’ll fall behind with their workload).
  • Shying away from group discussions/team interactions.

How could that individual be helped?

MHFA 1: Again, case dependant. No one answer fits all here. If you have identified that someone may be struggling, do your best to apply to listen, understand and offer support and resources for that person.

MHFA 2: Some generic advice to be aware of:

  • Diet – try to eat and drink as healthily as you can, and avoid things that are bad for you (over-caffeinated products and sugars).
  • Exercising – physical and mental health are linked. Even if it’s a walk away from the office/home office at lunch, get up and about as much as you can.
  • Trying mindfulness – techniques like breathing exercises and meditation are proven to reduce your stress levels.
  • Switching off – working outside of normal office hours will mean all those stressful thoughts will stay at the forefront of your mind. It’s tough, but when the clock strikes 5 pm, switch off.
  • Professional support – If the above suggestions don’t work for you, don’t hesitate to seek professional support. There are several excellent charities that offer free support services to those in need. 

What advice would you give to other businesses as to how they can improve Mental Health awareness in the work place?

MHFA 1: Understand how common it is. Approximately 1 in 6 adults experience poor mental health in the workplace. For even small to medium sized companies this makes it statistically likely that someone you work with could be struggling with their mental health. Understand the effect poor mental health can have. Poor mental health can manifest in many ways, for some it may be a poor mood, for others it can manifest in very real physical symptoms. Show empathy over sympathy.

MHFA 2: Encourage your teams to gain a deeper understanding of work-related stress by moving away from the conventional HR vs employee structure. Establishing a dedicated team for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) can facilitate a more cooperative workplace culture, where HR and employees collaborate towards a common objective.