Mental health and anxiety in the workplace are becoming very common. We need to increase our ability to support co-workers and staff working through mental health challenges.
Mental health can be quite difficult to define because of a person’s mental health issues, types of problems and the impact these have upon their life, family and friends which are individual and specific to them. In other words, no two mental health problems will be experienced or managed in the same way.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges that there is no ‘official’ definition of the term, but they define mental health as:
A state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
The term ‘mental health’ refers to the ability to function and deal with daily life. An example of good mental health would be a person who has a positive sense of who they are and the ability to deal with life on a daily basis. So mental health includes being able to:
- cope with the demands of everyday life
- make relationships and participate in society
- make sense of life and the world around you
- experience, understand and express emotions and feelings
- think clearly, solve problems and make sound decisions
Mental ill-health is the absence of some or all of these positive factors on an ongoing basis. Mental ill-health refers to a range of mental health conditions that affect an individual’s mood, thinking and behaviour. Mental ill-health can be any condition that disrupts an individual’s everyday life. Examples include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and addictive behaviour. Everyone may have bad days occasionally where they feel they cannot cope, but for individuals experiencing mental ill-health, most days will be like this.
Did you know?
One in four people worldwide will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
Mental health can be thought of as a scale that moves from healthy, reacting, injured through to ill. Everyone’s mental health is somewhere along this scale or continuum.
Did you know?
Around 30 per cent of all people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, most commonly depression/anxiety.
Mental Health and Anxiety in the Workplace – Supporting Coworkers with Anxiety disorders
Anxiety is a response to stress but may carry on after the factors causing stress have been resolved. Individuals may feel anxiety on a short-term basis, for example if they go to a job interview or have to give a presentation in front of lots of people. It becomes a problem when anxiety cannot be related to any particular situation or becomes long-term, overwhelming and interfering with everyday life.
Anxiety involves having physical symptoms and worrying thoughts. In some cases, individuals may experience panic attacks which can cause a fast heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and a feeling of lack of control. Long-term anxiety and frequent panic attacks can be very disrupting to everyday life and relationships.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. The most common types are:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This involves ongoing anxiety about lots of different issues in everyday life. The anxiety cannot be tied to one particular event or situation and can affect individuals very differently.
- Social anxiety disorder – This involves anxiety that occurs in response to social situations. Individuals may be nervous about talking to others, eating in front of them, and speaking on the phone, which can make work and social situations difficult as well as everyday activities such as shopping.
Did you know?
The most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in Britain is mixed anxiety and depression, which is estimated to cause one fifth of work days lost.
Steps to support an individual facing a mental health crisis include:
- Listening to them without making any judgements
- Concentrating on their immediate needs such as dealing with any wounds they might have if it is safe to do so, or helping them find a quiet area away from other people.
- Asking what would help them
- Being reassuring
- Signposting them to practical information where appropriate
- Avoiding confrontation
- Asking if you can contact someone for them
- Encouraging them to seek help from a local crisis team, their GP or other appropriate professional
- Providing first aid (or alerting a qualified first aider) if they have hurt themselves physically
- If they are seeing or hearing things, reminding them that you are there and not dismissing their experiences or reinforcing them.
Positive relationships are important in preventing and supporting mental ill-health in all aspects of life, including the workplace. Many full-time workers spend more time at work during the week than at home with family and friends. Being in a negative environment for this large amount of time can cause stress and make individuals feel isolated, which will reduce motivation and lead to low morale. Not only does this have a negative effect on mental health and anxiety in the workplace but also on productivity at work.
Positive relationships make employees feel supported and generate an improved attitude towards the organisation and work. They will feel happier and have better mental health, which will make them more resilient in the face of problems and stressful situations both in the workplace and outside it. It will lead to fewer workplace absences and a happier, more productive workplace.
Communication is important in supporting positive relationships. Effective communication will give individuals someone to share work concerns with and help them feel supported with problems and worries in the workplace. Managers, workplace mentors, tutors and welfare staff can actively help to support mental well being by not being afraid of broaching the subject of mental health and of having difficult conversations with individuals about how they are feeling at work or worries they have about work or at home. Active listening is important to make individuals feel properly supported. This involves the listener showing the individual that they are listening and interested and being non-judgemental about what the individual says.
Tips on having difficult conversations
Conversations with individuals about worries at work or in the learning environment or about their mental health can be difficult. The following tips will help:
- Make sure that the conversation takes place in a private, quiet area, where no one else can overhear or interrupt.
- Thank the individual for coming to talk about the problem.
- Give the individual as much time as they need to explain the issues. • Make sure you focus on what the individual has to say.
- Remain open-minded and don’t judge the individual.
- Be aware that what they tell you may be unexpected, or even shocking. • If you can, try to find out anything that might be causing the problem.
- Think about ways that the individual could be supported, or the problem could be sorted out.
- If you think more time is required to seek advice or think about the problem, explain this to the individual, gain their agreement and arrange another meeting at a later date.
Tips on active listening
Active listening is an important skill, especially for handling sensitive conversations. Active listening involves:
- Observing the individual’s body language to check that it supports what they are saying e.g. if they say everything is fine but appear very tense and anxious, you may need to probe further.
- Not interrupting.
- Listening without judging the individual or jumping to conclusions about what they are telling you.
- Listening properly rather than thinking about something else or planning what you will say next.
- Showing the individual that you are listening through making eye contact and positive body language e.g. facing them and leaning towards them slightly.
- Not forcing your opinions or solutions on the individual.
- Staying focused throughout the conversation.
- Not taking notes as it looks as if you are not listening.
- Asking relevant questions to gain more information or to clarify your understanding of what the individual is saying.
- Summarising what has been said to confirm you have got it right and picked up the main points.
One key element to finding support is having the ability to be able to communicate what you are thinking, feeling, hearing.
Where can you get advice, help and support from?
Internal to your workplace
– Mental Health First Aiders who have been appointed in the work or learning environment
– Mental Health Champions
– Internal counsellors
– Other support such as human resources or trade union and staff association support
External to the workplace
– Your GP
Mental Health Charities – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
– The World Health Organisation (WHO) who produce health related advice to nations and organisations including mental health guidance on good practice.
– ACAS (The Advice, Conciliation and Arbitration service) who advise employers on workplace policy and produce information about supporting mental health in the workplace.
– Government organisations such as Public Health England who provide advice, guidance and resources relating to mental health and well-being.
– The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who publish advice on mentally healthy environments as part of their support to organisations to help them meet their health and safety responsibilities.
– The Priory Group – https://www.priorygroup.com/
Don’t live in silence. Reach out for support.