We live in an increasingly enlightened age. The world of work is almost unrecognisable to how it was fifty years ago. We have remote working. Flexible hours. The gig economy is thriving and employment mobility is higher than it has ever been.
Which makes it all the more surprising that mental health remains such a taboo subject within the workplace. It is treated with a level of suspicion and sometimes downright dismissal that you rarely find when it comes to the physical health of an employee. Ask for a risk assessment because you have been suffering from back problems, or request an eye test as you have been experiencing headaches, and your result is likely to be granted without a second thought. Suggest that you might need some support with your mental health… and it’s quite possibly a different story altogether.
It’s not ‘somebody else’s problem’
I believe that a large part of the issue is that we see mental health very much in black and white. Someone is either mentally ‘unwell’, or they are fine. In reality, of course, mental health is just like our physical health. At any given time, we all fall onto a spectrum, from ‘Absolutely Fine’ to ‘I Am Really Really Struggling Right Now’. Sometimes we can veer from one end of that spectrum to another in a startlingly short period of time.
If we shift our thinking on this topic as per the above, all of a sudden our perspective changes. We stop seeing mental health as somebody else’s problem. We start seeing it as everybody’s problem, because it is something which affects all of us to one extent or another, every single day.
Breaking down the taboo
Some of us have developed mechanisms of coping which allow us to manage our own mental health better than others. But that doesn’t mean we’re immune to suddenly finding ourselves at rock bottom. The real danger with mental health is we start thinking of it as something which will never happen to us. Every time we do so, we not only increase our own risk of struggling with our mental health, we also directly contribute to the build-up of the taboo we find in society when it comes to mental wellbeing.
So what can we do to break down this taboo. There, are, in my mind, a three things which, if every person in every workplace went out and did tomorrow, we’d immediately consign the stigma behind mental health to be a thing of the past.
#1 Talk about it
Talking about mental health is shockingly powerful. I think most of us would be surprised if our colleagues were truly open about how many of them have experienced mental health issues of their own. When we open up about the times that we’ve felt we were struggling and failing, we immediately make it seem okay for others to do the same. We must, must put an end to the situation we have now, where individuals suffer in silence for extended periods of time and feel unable to reach out to others – something which can sometimes result in devastating consequences. It is okay not to be okay. We need more people to state this, every day, in every organisation across the globe.
#2 Reach out
Most of us probably manage a cursory “How are you doing?” when we meet up with someone. How often do we truly listen to the answer? How often do we study the tone of voice and the body language used when someone tells you they’re “okay”, in a manner which suggests that, really, they are anything but? By gently probing to understand how they’re really doing, we could just be the lifeline they need to encourage them to seek the help and support to enable them to feel better.
#3 Encourage appropriate interventions
We are getting better than ever before at identifying ways to proactively manage our mental health. Unlike physical wellbeing, there is rarely a ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health. For some, a visit to the gym or going for a run after work might be just the thing to wind down. For others, it’s spending time with friends and family which is most beneficial to their mental health. For still others, perhaps it’s hobbies: listening to music, reading, colouring in.
There are also the expert interventions which are available: EAP, counselling, massages and mental health services. If your organisation doesn’t already offer these as part of your EVP, perhaps now’s the time to consider it. Promoting the availability of these to employees and encouraging them to use them where needed can make a huge difference when it comes to proactively managing mental health.
Mental Health Day
10 October is Mental Health Day. Here at Benefex we will be celebrating it, sharing with employees some suggested ways to take care of their mental health, and encouraging every single person in the organisation to speak out when it comes to mental health.
It is okay not to be okay. It really is. And the more of us who put our head above the parapet and admit that yes, we too have days when things really don’t feel that okay… the closer we will come to removing the mental health taboo, once and for all.