Let’s start with the basics… What is mental health?
The world health organisation defines mental health as:
“a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community”
Mental health is a part of overall health and it lies on a continuum just like physical health . It can be acute and impacted by director stressors in one’s life. Or it can be chronic and in the form of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood, psychosis and eating disorders
Each individual is different and so how they behave when going through periods of good or poor mental health will be different;
One’s mental health is impacted positively by protective factors that can be individual (self-belief, problem-solving and communication abilities, relationships, physical health and physical activity) or societal (security and safety, financial stability, healthcare, social equality, housing) factors.
In the converse, mental health is impacted negatively by risk factors, which are also individual (life events, substance abuse, experiences of loss, work stress, interpersonal conflict or lack of support) and societal (poor public services, experience of stigma and discrimination, poor living and community circumstances) factors.
So…Why should we care?
Mental health issues can affect anyone and people often report that stigma and discrimination can have more harmful effects and exacerbate their ill health.If your fellow colleagues don’t feel they can express when they are going through periods of mental ill-health, then they are likely to keep quiet and not seek the help and support they would need in order to return to a place of good mental health. If this happens, absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work when too unwell to work) increase and everyone in the team suffers. Also, the mental health of the person can deteriorate even further and result in a serious chronic mental health condition that can take much longer to treat.
Having greater awareness of the factors impacting mental health enables you to:
- Understand why someone would be acting differently or showing signs of mental ill-health and in need of additional support from time to time.
- Reduce the stigma associated with mental ill-health as the factors impacting it are common and likely to have impacted you at one point or another, whether it be you or someone you know.
Although everyone will show signs of mental ill-health in different ways, there are common early warning signs one can look out for:
- Physical: Headaches or stomach upsets, frequent illness/tiredness, difficulty sleeping , lack of care over appearance, weight gain or loss
- Emotional and behavioural: Irritability, being withdrawn, conflict with others, substance abuse, inability to make decisions, loss of confidence, memory loss, loss of humour
- At work: Increased errors, missing deadlines , taking on too much work, unusual tardiness, working extended hours
Being in a position to spot when someone is in need of support and understand how best to support them can prevent this from happening, as well as create a positive and enjoyable work environment where team members are happy in their job and their team
And finally… How can we support our team’s wellness?
Now you know what it is, and how to spot it… So let’s look at what to do about it! The first thing to know is that you cannot fix someone’s mental health issues, and more often than not, coming to them with a solution-driven mindset can be counterproductive. The most important thing is that the person feels that they have been heard and that you can empathise with their situation. Do not try to fix or solve how they are feeling, rather offer support and a safe space for them to share
Start with offering up a chat: If the person accepts, you can set it up virtually or find a private space where you feel the person will be most comfortable. Keep the conversation positive, be empathetic and take them seriously
Useful questions to ask:
- How are you feeling?
- How long have you felt like this?
- Who do you feel you can talk to for support?
- Is there anything in your personal life or at work that is contributing to how you are feeling?
- Is there anything I/we can do to help?
Afterwards, don’t be afraid to check in on them and see how they are doing and encourage them to keep you updated because you genuinely care.
Remember, mental health is something everyone needs to maintain and work on, and just like physical health, we can go through periods of mental ill-health suddenly or frequently, depending on our situation.
- Be on the lookout for colleagues/people in your life who may be going through a period of mental ill-health
- Be aware of any potential risk factors that could be impacting an individual’s mental health and offer support to those who are going through periods of increased stress
- Reach out to them and start a conversation now that you have the tools to do so
- Be compassionate