Mental health awareness week 2023

The importance of support in the workplace

Black and White headshot photo of Sarah Cope

Sarah Cope, Business Development Manager

17 May 2023

Mental health is, quite rightly, one of the most important issues of today and no more so in the forefront of our minds during Mental Health week.

The stigma that has traditionally gone with the phrase is slowly but surely being dismantled and there is help now readily available. My own personal journey with mental health has been a long one dealing with debilitating anxiety which in truth, I have only in the last few years acknowledged and accepted myself. With the right help life is less of a struggle, and when I talk about help, I don’t just mean a trip to the Doctors, I have been lucky enough to have received support at work too from colleagues who really do take the time to understand.

Mental health illustrated in black and white as a head tree losing leaves

For many of us work is a huge part of our lives, afterall it is where we spend so much of our time. Work can be detrimental to your mental health, or if you are lucky and are surrounded with supportive colleagues it can be great for mental health and general wellbeing. I have experienced both sides to that story, but it was only when I removed myself from what I now realise was a damaging environment that I really understood what makes a healthy workplace for me.

The ways in which to provide mental health support in the workplace could be a pretty long list depending on how far you feel you should go, below I have outlined my current top three things all organisations should be doing.

People with severe mental illness die prematurely from preventable physical illnesses each year.

If you know someone with a severe mental illness, please reach out and make sure they’re receiving professional support for both their physical and mental health needs.

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Value mental health and wellbeing in your organisation

If you can create a compassionate and supportive culture within your organisation you will be smashing any remaining stigma associated with mental health and nurturing a healthy workplace for all. Even in a work-at-home environment I know I can jump on a Teams call with a colleague if I am struggling, knowing that I am going to be able to talk and they will listen, advise and most importantly (to me) not judge me. I know my Manager understands I am neurodivergent and appreciates how I like to work and when I need support. This makes all the difference and allows me to enjoy my job and thrive. You should value neurodiversity and the lived experience that mental health challenges bring. I know I am a much better person because of my experience of mental health challenges, I am in a good place and am capable of helping others as a result. In creating a compassionate culture in the workplace, it goes without saying that, you must address incidents of mental health discrimination just as you would in relation to any other protected characteristics such as race, gender or sexual orientation. All discrimination must be seen as unacceptable, and staff should be encouraged to report all instances.

Reasonable adjustments

Just as a colleague with any other disability has the right to ask for reasonable adjustments in their job or workplace to accommodate their specific needs, so does a colleague suffering with mental health issues. Some examples of adjustments that may be made include:

  • Adjusting a working pattern to mitigate issues with medication, or anxiety issues perhaps with rush hour travel
  • Allow more flexible working, allowing a colleague to work from home a few days a week to reduce stress
  • Support in managing work volume
  • Making some changes to physical work environment, if noise is an issue you could provide a quiet space to work

There are many ways to make relatively small adjustments which can make a huge difference to someone experiencing mental health issues.

Mental Health first aiders

There are now more and more Mental Health first aiders (MHFA) being established in the workplace. MHFAs are generally the first point of contact for colleagues if they are experiencing emotional distress or suffering any mental health problems for example, stress, anxiety or depression. MHFA are trained to listen and to spot the early signs of mental health issues, they treat all interactions confidentially and are equipped to point colleagues in the direction of appropriate support. They are also trained to deal with mental health emergencies too when called upon. I believe it is vital in the workplace to have MHFA and there are courses available to allow people to become accredited.

Above I have outlined only three possible things organisations could be doing to help colleagues with mental health issues, of course with the cost of living crisis we are facing now there is other practical help which can be offered for anyone suffering the effects. I think with any mental health issue the hardest thing is to ask for help, I know it was for me and as a result I went far too long struggling on, once I got help and felt the difference in myself it was life changing.

If you are struggling with mental health issues you can seek help via the following.

NHS urgent mental health helplines

NHS urgent mental health helplines are for people of all ages.

You can call for:

  • 24-hour advice and support – for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for
  • help to speak to a mental health professional
  • an assessment to help decide on the best course of care

Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline

Free listening services

These services offer confidential support from trained volunteers. You can talk about anything that’s troubling you, no matter how difficult:

If you’re under 19, you can also call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.

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