When we return from work after a cold, we sort of expect colleagues and managers to ask how we are, how bad the illness was and for us to go into great depth about the sweats, the coughing and the headache we had to suffer.
We may even exaggerate the pain we endured to generate extra sympathy from our colleagues!
The same tends not to true for someone returning from a period of depression or stress. However, 16 million working days were lost due to stress-related absence in 2015 and data tells us that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. With that in mind, it’s surely time to start lifting that taboo.
In the same way that no one asks for a cold, we don’t tend to place an order for stress or depression either! If 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems each year, the chances we all work with someone who may be going through this. So why don’t we talk about it in the same way we share often graphic details of our physical illnesses?
Let’s consider just two of the symptoms of depression:
- Reduced interaction with other people
- Low self-esteem.
Even just taking these two factors into consideration, one can start to understand how hard it is for someone living with depression to tell a colleague they are struggling. They are less inclined to put themselves ‘out there’ socially and with their plummeting self-esteem, they might not feel worthy of getting support from others.
Drop the stigma that is associated with mental health into the mix and … BOOM…. Is it likely that the colleague living with depression is going to be comfortable opening up?
Concerns arise about the impact this admission would have. Will it harm my career? Will I be seen as weak? Will others treat me differently? Will others still trust me?
Many organisations are taking great strides in this respect and wellbeing policies are encouraging people to look after themselves both mentally and physically, and offering help to employees who need it.
As an employer, think about what you can do to lift the stigma:
- Encourage conversations: Bringing mental health into the general office dialogue can help encourage people to share their own issues and to look out for colleagues.
- Training: Ensuring managers/HR colleagues are trained to have a better understanding of mental health issues and to have conversations that reflect this.
- The way people work: What opportunities are there for flexible working? How much control do people have over their work? How much opportunity do people get to build useful networks with colleagues?
- Prevention: Giving employees ‘tools’ they can use to prevent stressful situations turning into something more serious and long-standing. Consider how things like mindfulness and psychological flexibility training can help in the longer term, along with healthy and sustainable coping strategies.
- Professional support: Make it where people can go when they need support; be that Occupational health, HR or employee assistance programme providers.
With campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week, one can see that change is happening but as employers, managers, colleagues and friends let’s not let this one slip. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
Mind also offer useful information about mental health in the workplace: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/workplace-mental-health/#.WvLQly_MyuU