Our experiences of mental health and work are often intertwined.
For employed people, work makes up a large portion of the week, and is often where we expend most of our mental energy. Even people who aren’t in work will usually be thinking about work a lot, whether they’re undergoing the arduous trials of applying for jobs, or perhaps just concerned with how they’ll pay the bills next month. On the flip side, most of us tend to spend most of our waking days conscious, inside our own minds. Our experience of our own mental states is an everyday occurrence.
So it seems mental health and work are two of life’s constants. This constancy means there is bound to be a lot of overlap between them – they can both affect one another. For example, a person already experiencing anxiety may have more negative stress-related experiences when they go into the workplace. Just as plausible is that the workplace can trigger mental health issues like anxiety in the first place. Sometimes it could be a combination of the two – a vicious cycle where declining mental health leads to a worsened experience of work which in turn reinforces the negative mental health symptoms and so on.
Equally though, employees whose mental health is prioritised and addressed correctly tend to do better in work on many different measures, from simple wellbeing to productivity. The Global Happiness Policy Report 2018, commissioned by the Global Happiness Council (https://www.happinesscouncil.org/report/2018/), looked at a variety of factors to see what was most important for wellbeing in the workplace. This research paper names the number one factor in wellbeing at work as positive working relationships between employees and managers.
Creating a good working environment for our mental health, and perhaps on a grander scale creating a cultural shift where working does have to mean worsened mental health, relies on a two-pronged approach. Firstly, everybody taking a proactive approach to supporting those around them, in work and beyond, to maximise our collective wellbeing. Secondly, leaders putting their money where their mouth is and taking steps to stop workplaces causing or exacerbating mental health issues in the first place.
I’m personally really fortunate to be in a workplace that genuinely does both of these things. Our organisation puts staff wellbeing and mental health at its heart. We have a culture where staff look out for their colleagues and make sure they get support if they’re struggling. We have lots of provisions in place to help promote our wellbeing, like an employee assistance programme where you can access 24/7 counselling. I know that many people aren’t in such a lucky position as me, and they have to push for acceptance and support with their mental health. We still have a long way to go in effecting change across the country and the world in this arena.
A shout out I’d like to make is for the programme we’ve just started delivering, Thriving at Work. This is a hugely exciting opportunity for us to support our charity sector partners to embed best practices around mental health and neurodiversity into what they offer. More information will be coming very soon! Additionally, I must mention that on the programme I co-manage, Action Towards Inclusion, we have a partnership of incredible organisations. This includes many who are champions of mental health, like Orb and Working for Health, amongst others. You can read more about this fabulous programme here: https://www.atiyorkshire.org/
A positive that’s always worth keeping in mind is that we can always start somewhere, doing something ourselves, however small it may seem to us. A BBC article I read the other day was a very powerful example of this:
Heather took a traumatic experience she had in the job she loves, and instead of it ruining her job or life, she used it as the impetus to help colleagues who were struggling or even in crisis. People have an incredible power to lift others out of their problems. This seems to be true in spite of, or maybe because of, difficult experiences we’ve had ourselves. Empathy really is a powerful force.
As a nation (hopefully) coming out of the worst of a pandemic, our attitudes and ways of working have changed permanently. The mental health repercussions, it has been suggested, are still yet to be felt in full. So where does that leave us? I’m not a mental health professional or expert, but I feel it goes back to our humanity. Being social creatures, the only way any one of us can thrive is if we all do. Take whatever little steps you can to be kind to your colleagues, friends, family and actually strangers too. Ultimately make sure you look after yourself first!
Take care x
Please note: this article and its links contain discussion of mental illness and suicide. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis please contact the Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
If you need urgent medical attention call NHS 999. If you need less urgent medical help call NHS 111.
You can also visit https://www.mind.org.uk/ for further mental health support and advice.