Mental health in the workplace – why you, boss, matter most.

Mental health and leadership
Picture shows dictionary entry of the word leadership.

World Mental Health Day passed me by in a blur of tissues, hot lemon and honey and self-pity. I had planned on a less lurgy-ridden blog. I had looked forward to seeing the different campaigns on social media. I was all excited that finally, society’s mental wellbeing was on the menu!

But my daughter became unwell, and then myself. My own mental health hit the decks after a week of being sofa-bound. I wasn’t well enough for many of the strategies I use daily to keep myself mentally well. I told my boss I was too ill to work. And I missed out on a Sarah Millican gig (so essential for mental health!).

And then it hit me.

I told my employer I was too ill to work. And I didn’t spin into a pit of anxiety about work. Because I trust them.

I’m embarrassed to admit this… But in 14 years of working in healthcare and wellbeing, I have never taken a sick day off work without experiencing huge anxiety. I’ve gone into work ill far too many times to mention. Don’t we all? If off sick, I will try to work at home. I’ll always worry. I’ll always expect to be judged. Despite high productivity and performance levels, excellent exam outcomes etc.

Clinicians don’t get ill, do they?

Part of this comes from the presenteeism so rife in the NHS. I’ll never forget one manager boasting of how he drove into work with a broken leg. Part of this comes from neglecting my own health and wellbeing in the past (clinicians and nurses are particularly prone to this too). But part of it comes from the examples set by the bosses and role models I’ve had in the workplace.

Many organisations boast about their employee wellbeing campaigns. They hold mental health awareness days, with cake and flyers. They have employee support helplines. They have fair sickness policies. They have good occupational health support in place. But does any of this have any impact if your employees can’t be honest with you?

If you’re reading this, and you’re the boss, a senior role model, a leader or a decision maker, ask yourself if you set a good example?

Do you openly talk about both physical and mental health? Are you open about your own needs? Do you ask your employees if they’re well? And remind them of the importance of their health? Do you go home if you’re unwell? Do you take time off on holiday? Do you ask employees what they need? And give them the confidence to tell you? Good mental health in the workplace begins with the very basics of how you lead your team.

 

Anxiety and Accessibility – Is your workplace welcoming?

The words accessibility and workplace usually bring one image to mind: A visibly disabled person, in a wheelchair, trying to access a building. Ramps. Lifts. Revolving doors. For many disabled people, just getting to a venue takes careful planning.  But accessibility comes in many forms.  And can impact upon many conditions.

I went to a meet a new client in the centre of Birmingham last week. I knew I might have problems sleeping the night before. I knew I’d be nervous. I knew it would be a challenge. But it didn’t occur to me to troubleshoot potential obstacles before going. Not in enough detail.

I checked the train times in advance. I checked the address in advance. I bought tickets in advance. I picked my clothes in advance. Small things that can help manage anxiety.

But on the day, it was scorching hot. I’d only had a couple of hours sleep. 15 minutes from station to venue wasn’t enough time for me to find the place easily. I got lost. I panicked. I got hotter. Birmingham seemed very, very, busy and the buildings very, very, tall.

Anxiety can affect basic functioning…

Everyone looked too busy to stop and ask for directions. And the buildings weren’t clearly marked. Google maps kept kicking me out of walking directions and decided to stick me in a car instead. I stopped people and asked for help but three people later, I was still lost. I rang the receptionist and asked for directions but had to be transferred to another receptionist first. It got later. I panicked a bit more. I didn’t understand the directions. And I didn’t want to be late. Anxiety was clouding comprehension.

The client rang and asked if all was well. I admitted I was lost and rather stressed. She was calm and kind and directed me into the building. I was two minutes away! But in my panic, I hadn’t remembered the first line of the address and had walked past the building numerous times.

Mental health conditions can take something very simple and make it incredibly hard. Memory, concentration, breathing, the ability to control your body temperature. All are affected. I am an able-bodied person and I can physically travel anywhere very easily. Except I can’t. Sometimes, if the week has held many stressors, the mental obstacles are hard to overcome.

When I approached the building it was huge, glass, with a revolving door. No clear signposting. There was a security guard rather than the reception desk I expected.  When I arrived at the reception there were multiple instructions about how to get through security barriers and how to programme the lift. People to interact with. More challenges.

What can help?

But then, I got out of the lift and everything changed. The client met me at the second reception point, so I didn’t have to be directed again. She asked me if I’d like a comfort break first. I welcomed the opportunity to run cold water on my wrists to calm myself down. She led me to an office, offered me water and from the very first second I met her, to the very last second when I left, did everything she could to make me comfortable and at ease.

We had a successful meeting and she gave me clear directions back to the station. I got home easily with not one issue.  On my return, I realised that I have a disability. Internal and external factors affect how well I function. The client, in turn, had reflected upon the corporate environment that she felt so comfortable in. She asked me how could she have made my visit easier? In truth, she absolutely did make it easier. Had I been greeted with a less aware, less professional, or less compassionate person, the outcome could have been very different.

Next week I’ll be writing about how to make your workplace more accessible to those with a mental health condition.

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And to find out more about best practice around disability in the workplace take a peek here

 

New Research on Mental Health in the Workplace

Totaljobs has recently conducted research around mental health in the workplace which showed that two thirds (67%) of UK workers would not feel comfortable discussing a mental health issue with their employer. Likewise, 1 in 3 employees still feel there is a workplace stigma attached to mental health issues, according to the research.

The research, which surveyed over 2,000 UK people, showed the factors stopping workers disclosing their mental health issues.

Top 5 reasons employees are reluctant to discuss a mental health issue with an employer:

32% – Feel there is a stigma attached to mental health issues
32% – Would be embarrassed to discuss the issues with their employer
35% – Feel it would make their employer feel negatively of them
23% – Feel it will impact their chances of progression
32% – Don’t think they will get the right support from their employer

Many people also don’t feel that their employer does enough to promote strong mental health in the workplace, despite their proven benefits.

Top 5 mental health and wellbeing services least likely to be offered by employers:

  1. Available outdoor space (89%)
  2. Gym memberships (free or discounted) (87%)
  3. Encouragement of regular breaks (85%)
  4. Staff surveys specifically to ensure employees are not struggling at work (85%)
  5. Flexible working hours (75%)

Totaljobs offer 5 ways to help a colleague who may have mental health issues at work:

  1. Encourage them to talk
  2. Encourage them to seek support from the workplace
  3. Avoid making assumptions
  4. Respect confidentiality
  5. Learn about mental health

See more here, along with a case study

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The Cost of Ignoring Mental Health

Employers often say that they find the practical issues around physical disabilities much easier to cope with than the more emotionally supportive issues around helping employees with mental health issues. However, there is much to be said for making your workplace a good, supportive and safe environment for people with mental health issues.

Research commissioned by MIND found that:

  • 1 in 5 people take a day off work due to stress
  • 1 in 10 people have resigned a job due to stress, 1 in 4 have thought about it
  • 19% of staff feel they can’t speak to managers about stress at work
  • 25% of people surveyed considered resigning due to stress
  • 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance

Thankfully, there is much help available. MIND themselves offer a range of resources for employers, and webinars and training.

Help is also available via Access to Work (delivered by Remploy) which can help someone develop a strategy to remain in work or return to work following a mental illness.

You could also consider becoming a Mindful Employer, which aims to increase awareness of mental health at work, and offers support to employers in recruiting and retaining staff where mental health might be an issue. They offer resources and training and also a Charter for Employers who are Positive about Mental Health.

Finally, the Business Disability Forum have produced a guide for line managers on this issue called Mental Health at Work, which answers those difficult questions that line managers can sometimes try to avoid.

It is said that 1 in 4 of us will have mental health challenges at some point in our lives, so this is not something we can hide away from. Employees who feel valued, and safe, and able to share their particular requirements, will be far more productive and may well avoid a crisis altogether.

There is some advice on how to deal with stress in the workplace here.

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Welcome new discrimination legislation

On 28 February 2013, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013 became law.

The Act removes the last significant forms of discrimination in law from our society.This is a fantastic moment for people with mental health problems and a big step towards breaking down the prejudice surrounding mental health.

The new Act removes three legal barriers that contribute to a stigmatised view of mental health problems. It also sends a wider message that discrimination of people with mental health problems will not be tolerated.

The three provisions in the Act:

  • repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, under which a Member of the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly automatically loses their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months
  • amend the Juries Act 1974 to remove the blanket ban on “mentally disordered persons” undertaking jury service
  • amend the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 which states that a person might cease to be a director of a public or private company “by reason of their mental health”

These three pieces of legislation fed into the discriminatory and outdated idea that people with mental health problems can never recover, and cannot be trusted to participate in social, political or economic life.

It’s hard to believe it took this long to give mental health the same legal status as physical health issues, but we are finally there. For more information see here.

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Best Practice Case Study: The National Trust

I asked the National Trust if they had any case studies of good practice I could include in this blog series, and they sent me a number. The first one, today’s, is from a man who has really managed to turn his life around through very difficult circumstances including severe depression, and would like to reassure others that they can do the same too. I’d really like to thank Jon for this heartwarming story, and congratulate the National Trust in seeing his potential and helping him realise it. Over to Jon:

I have until this period of employment/training struggled with depression, as a result of emotion repression. I joined a large company when I was 16 and the way of life that I led for near on ten years was one of ‘get your head down and carry on’ – shows of emotion were not common place and were frowned upon as an inconvenience to the system.

As a result of this lifestyle and the refusal of help from anyone in a position of responsibility, including company-provided doctors, I became further and further depressed until finally I was unable to fulfil my role. I was retained by the company, but was removed from my role within company HQ and posted to an outstation in Cornwall. All very high profile within the HQ, but swept swiftly under the carpet. After this incident I tried to get help again from company doctors and eventually found that the only way I could get help for my depression was to leave the company and to see an NHS provided doctor, to gain the help I needed.

On leaving the company my depression got worse, as I couldn’t find a job. It proved impossible for me to gain any meaningful work and after my marriage failed, I set up an I.T. repair business, which is going from strength to strength; even alongside my role as a Visitor Experience trainee. I applied for the National Trust training for Heritage skills thinking that it may give me more qualifications, which could help change the course of my life by getting me a decent job again.

During this past year I have progressed immensely both personally and as a professional, wholly due to the support and guidance given to me by my manager at the National Trust, Laura Martin.

Although I have had the utmost determination to complete this contract to the best of my ability, my depression was still lurking and on the breakdown of the relationship with my son’s mother, I hit that brick wall again. Having to deal with this and still attend work etc. kicked off the process to my full recovery! Initially I started speaking with a National Trust provided counsellor and to a counsellor from Outlook Southwest and I attended a 5 session workshop run by Outlook southwest, to teach me how to deal with my emotions.

This workshop finished about a month ago and I have never felt so positive and in tune with who I am and what I want to do. I would like to work as a Visitor Experience assistant, within any National Trust owned property, whilst progressing towards gaining the qualifications needed to provide educational development workshops and property events, using the amazing natural places and natural play ideals held by the National Trust, which is a far cry from where I had seen myself last year.

I whole heartedly believe that I am much better physically, mentally and emotionally, as a direct result of being given this opportunity by the National Trust.

I no longer feel depressed and if I ever do again, I know how to deal with this in a proactive and meaningful way. The only downside is that when the emotion does come out, whether it be happy or sad, it is generally accompanied by tears, which isn’t a bad thing I suppose, as it feels great to be able to process emotions again after so long!

Depression is an illness that sneaks up on you, only to reveal itself at the worst possible time. Many people dismiss depression as a fake illness, I can tell you now though, that it is as real as the world around us! If you think you’re depressed the only way to really grip it and take control of your own mind again, is to see your doctor and to go through the counselling sessions, provided free of charge by charities through-out the country.

The National Trust ethos of “Beautiful places, For ever, For everyone” has helped inspire me to want to be a part of the ever growing portfolio of properties, coast and countryside. To stay a part of the movement that has changed my life in such a dramatic way and as my training is near an end, I will soon start to apply for every job within the National Trust that I may be qualified for.

With the support of a conscientious employer and the personal determination to succeed, your professional dreams are within your grasp.

Good luck to you all.

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Myths around Mental Health

I found this amazing website called Time to Change, all around ending mental health discrimination through education. The site includes interesting information, case studies, a blog, and many other useful insights. I particularly liked a page looking at myths and facts, busting some common myths such as:

Myth:   Mental health problems are very rare

Fact:    Mental health problems affect one in four people

 

Myth:   People with mental illness aren’t able to work

Fact:    We probably all work with someone experiencing mental health problems

 

Myth:   Young people just go through ups and downs during puberty – it’s nothing

Fact:    One in ten young people will experience a mental health problem

 

Myth:   People with mental health problems are usually unpredictable and violent

Fact:    People with a mental helath problem are more likely to be victims of violence 

 

Myth:   People with mental health problems don’t experience discrimination

Fact:    Nine out of ten people with mental health problms experience stigma and discrimination

 

Myth:   It’s easy for young people to talk to their friends about their feelings

Fact:    Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems

 

For more insights, have a look at the website here

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Guest Blog: Health Dangers of Office Work

As we know, most disabled people acquire their disabilities later in life rather than being born with them. Our guest blogger today, Daniel Winters, is a freelance British writer and health expert. Much of his writing involves topics concerning medical negligence and other important health matters. Today he writes about the health dangers of working in an office:

 

Office work may not seem like a job that could lead to a variety of illnesses and injuries; however there is much to be cautious about when it comes to such type of work. More and more, new health risks are discovered in connotation to office work, and here are but some of the dangers and how they can be avoided.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One of the problems that come with office work is that it entails many repetitive tasks. Of these are the continuous uses of a keyboard and mouse. Many of us spend the large proportion of our days typing and using a mouse, and the fact that such motions are repeated over and over again can cause injury or pain.

This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome and occurs when a nerve that runs through the forearm is compressed by swollen bones and ligaments in the wrist.

How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Certain hand stretching and other exercises can help release tension in the wrist and should be performed on a daily basis while you’re at work. Bending your knuckles for example can do a world of good, and so can performing a simple fist stretch from time to time while you’re working.

Lower Back Pain

Another problem with office work is that it entails sitting down for hours on end. This can have a negative effect on your body over time if you don’t move around on a regular basis; particularly if you have bad posture.

In some cases, a worker’s chair or seat may be the reason to blame, with its shape being incompatible with the natural sitting posture of a human being. If you’re chair is the reason to blame and was allocated by your employers, a back injury claim may even be made.

How Can I Prevent Lower Back Pain?

Again, you must exercise regularly in order to alleviate some of the stress off your back. This doesn’t just include back exercises however, but also abdominal strengthening activities which will relieve some of your lower back’s pressure.

Being more active around the office will too help.

Stress

Those whose work involves exerting themselves physically, offload much of the stress that accumulates in life. However, office work is hardly physical and as a result, office workers are more likely to have stress related outbursts.

Furthermore, health effects on the brain such as depression can occur from not physically offloading one’s stress amounts.

How Can I Lower Stress Levels?

Sadly, you won’t be able to file a brain injury claim from stress and so it’s important that you look after yourself mentally. If your job doesn’t involve much moving around, then make sure you move around more yourself.

Exercise at the gym regularly. This will not only provide you with the sufficient physical exercise, but also allow you to get into a routine that doesn’t involve being sat in the same spot for hours on end.

Unfortunately, many people leave the office, only to be sat in front of the television for the rest of the day. Such a lifestyle is not active enough for your mental and physical health and you must be out and about more.

 

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Yes, I Really Do Hate Yo-Yos!

Yo-yo book cover

 

 

A departure from our usual blogs today. I came across a book with the above title, and bought it. I found it very powerful, and would recommend it both to those who would like to increase their understanding of mental health issues, and those who have been there and might be encouraged by it. Rather than talk about it myself, I’ll hand you over to Paula Peters, the author. The book is downloadable as an e-book for just a fiver here. Here is Paula’s story:

 

I started writing poetry in 1995 when I was in hospital. I loved writing, and always had a dream to write, but well, didn’t do anything about it until I was hospitalised with Depression. I was encouraged by my key worker in hospital to write my feelings down when I had problems talking to doctors and therapists, and a way of expressing myself was born.

It wasn’t until March 2012, that I wrote the poem Human Beings from my book “Yes I really do hate yo-yo’s”. I read a piece in one of the papers about how society gave a famous disabled person a lot of problems because she travelled on a train in her wheelchair so I wrote Human Beings in response to that. We are human beings, we many have disabilities but I am a strong believer that we are poeple first not a diagnosis. I am Paula not the labels I am stuck with.

In Febraury 2012 I finally decided to join Facebook after saying I never would. I first set up a page called For Disability Discriminaton to be Abolished and then started networking with people. I met fellow disability camapigners and got involved with Disabled People Agaisnt the Cuts (DPAC)

So back to the poetry. I posted on my facebook page Human Beings and people loved it. They said it sums a lot up for people with disabilites, get it out there, so I sent it in to my local mental health charity, Community Options and they loved it. They published it in thier magazine declared it their manifesto and gave me the name of Jason Pegler of Chipmunka Publishing which is a mental health publishing company – a way of getting the service user voice heard and passionate about mental health awareness and de-stigmastising mental health.

So I sent” Human Beings” to Jason Pegler who said he would love to consider publishing me, and I wrote a load more, submitted my mansucript and here I am with a book publsihed to the world to see – “Yes, I  Really Do Hate Yo Yo’s:  Living with the mood swings of cyclothymia and Rhuematoid Arthritis RA….

I have suffered from a mental health problem since I was a child, and have been hospitalised many times, and have attempted to take my own life many times. Depression is hell on earth, you cannot enjoy anything when so depressed, it is so awful and very, very disabling.

Why did I write?  Because I had suffered from terrible discrimination from friends and family and I hated the way the media portrayed people with disabilites in the press. I hate the press saying people with mental health problems are so dangerous when it simply isn’t true so I started writing.

I am passionate about raising awareness of disabilites, showing the world we are human beings, that we have families, friends, likes, dislikes, that we are every day people. I want to show that one in four of society goes to the doctor with a mental health problem and in today’s climate that will worsen.  In fact, depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness the GP will see.

Sharing our stories is a great way of raising awareness of our disabilites. I am a firm beleiver of doing that and adding to the de-stimgamtisation debate. To take the pain and sting and shame from mental illness.

I wanted to help people, if my book helps another person going through the hell of depression, admission in to a psychiatric unit, the shame, the loneliness and they get help my book would have done something. I care about people and that is one of the reasons I was compelled to write. If my poetry helps another human being with the hell of depression and they get support then I am glad.

I hope you enjoy my poetry and my book. It is hardhitting at times, but life is. I hope by sharing my story I will encourage other people to write and inspire others to share their amazing stories.

 

My understanding is that Paula is already working on her second book, and I wish her well with both.

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