Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK falls on the second week of May every year, with World Mental Health Day being marked annually on the 10th October. These key dates are an opportunity for awareness campaigning and activism, reminding us all of the importance of looking after our own mental health.
The Coronavirus pandemic drove home the importance of mental health at work more than any other time in our recent history. Therefore, it’s not surprising that in 2020/21, according to the HSE, there were an estimated 822,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This represents 2,480 per 100,000 of us. And, in the same year, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill-health.
Now, as we all embrace a new post-pandemic way of working, finding new techniques to improve mental health at work is finally climbing the agenda. Employers are awakening to the fact that looking after the mental well-being of their teams has more business benefits than just paying lip service to a trending buzzword.
Mental well-being, however, isn’t just an employer’s responsibility. Much like we’d drink water if we were thirsty, take a lunch break to refuel, or wash up our own coffee cup, looking after our own mental health should be part of our everyday working routine.
A healthy mental outlook at work can help to:
- Boost confidence
- Improve performance
- Form good relationships with colleagues and peers
- Cope with stress
- Put things in perspective
- Recognise triggers and put strategies in place to deal with them
Here are a few of our top tips on ways to improve your own mental health at work.
Take a Break
According to a CIPD report, seven in ten (70%) of us have observed some form of ‘leaveism’ in the workplace over the past 12 months, such as people working outside of contracted hours or using holiday entitlement to catch up with work.
The term ‘leaveism’ is quite a new one; coined in 2013 by Dr. Ian Hesketh, to describe the phenomena of employees using their paid time off to take work home with them, or because they are too unwell to work.
Taking a break is essential to improving your mental health at work. Working without a break in the day, or a healthy amount of time off in the year can lead to burnout, lack of productivity and depression.
Ellis Redmond, a Technical Recruitment Consultant for Proactive Personnel recommends fresh air and screen breaks throughout the day. He says, “Even a quick stroll to open the lungs and get the blood pumping are essential when working in an office environment. Even five minutes makes a difference.”
Leave Work at Work
For many of us, we’re constantly connected to work. Whether we’re sitting at home watching Netflix and idly browsing work emails on our phones, or we turn on the laptop on a Sunday, just to check what the upcoming week has in store for us. Technology has made it almost impossible to fully switch off and leave work at work. This is especially true for the growing number of remote and hybrid employees, particularly those without a dedicated space to work from home.
Mostly though, this comes down to discipline. More and more employers are recognising that contacting staff outside of working hours is an antisocial thing to do, and teams are much more productive when a healthy work-life balance is embedded as part of the company culture. Therefore, one of the most important ways to improve mental health at work is to ensure you have enough time away from it.
Sammy Taylor-Bell, a Partner at Proactive Personnel and Mental Health First Aider, says, “Going home to my children allows me to leave work at work. Laughing and playing with them really helps me relax and forget any stresses of the day.”
Learn to Relax
Learning to relax as a working adult with a busy work and home life, is one of the hardest things to learn to do. However, relaxing is essential to improving our mental health at work. Although taking time off and leaving work at work is important, it’s what we do with our time and our minds when we’re not at work that really helps us switch off.
Kerry Chapman, a Regional Director at Proactive Personnel and Mental Health First Aider, has two springer spaniels that are always keen to go for a walk, which is a great way to relax and switch off her mind for a while. “I also have a Peloton bike which keeps me fit and active, which I love. Sometimes it’s the last thing I feel like doing but after a class, I’m so glad I did. A bubble bath with a glass of ‘bubbles’ is my ultimate unwind, whilst listening to a Spotify playlist. Bliss!”
Learning to relax has far-reaching health benefits, too:
- Reduces stress
- Boosts confidence
- Releases built-up muscle tension
- Reduces fatigue
- Improves digestion
- Improves concentration
- Lifts mood
If you struggle to relax, take a few minutes to watch this video from the mental health charity, MIND.
Start the Conversation About Mental Health Awareness in Your Workplace
If improving mental health at work is still a bit of an alien concept in your workplace, there’s plenty you can do to start the conversation.
According to the mental health charity Time to Change, one in ten people have resigned from a job due to stress, and one in four of us have thought about it. Small changes in our everyday conversations with our colleagues can make a difference to someone’s day, and probably even their job.
If you’ve noticed someone at work that could be suffering with their mental health, here’s what you can do to start the conversation:
- Ask if they’re okay. Let them know you’re willing to listen
- Ask what you can do to help
- Offer support but avoid giving advice
- Take them seriously, even if the matter seems trivial to you
- Share your own experience, if you’re comfortable enough
- Don’t overstep
- Remind them that support is available and offer to help them to access it if they need to
Izzy Wedley, a Senior Industrial Recruitment Consultant at Proactive Personnel advises, “Never keep problems to yourself. We’re lucky in the Wrexham branch to have such a close-knit team, so you never have to feel alone with any issues.”
Reach Out for Help
If you know you’re struggling with your mental health at work, then one of the most important things you can do is reach out for help.
The best place to start is your company’s mental health first aiders, who’ll be able to provide a safe and comfortable space to chat through your worries. However, if you don’t want to look for support internally, there are plenty of free and confidential services to access. Don’t suffer in silence.
For further help and support:
Find an NHS mental health helpline
Helplines and listening services from MIND