Mental Health Awareness In The Workplace
Every 2 seconds, someone Google’s ‘depression’ in the UK. Not only this, there are 22 searches a minute for ‘stress’ and even 21 a minute for ‘anxiety’.
It can easily be said that mental health illnesses are undoubtedly becoming more common than many realise. Despite this, there is a stigma surrounding the topic which stops people from seeking help, in fear they will be treated differently. Therefore, it is crucial now more than ever to increase the importance of mental health and recognise the impact it can have on our lives.
Forms of mental health and the way it can affect people
Our mental health controls the way we think, feel and react in our everyday life. Good mental health allows us to enjoy a sense of purpose and direction, giving us energy to do the things we love as well as the ability to deal with any ups and downs we may face. Mental Health is something we all have; in many ways it is just like our physical health, we need to take care of it to keep ourselves healthy. However, our mental health can fluctuate as we move through different stages in life. In fact, poor mental health affects one in four people each year. Whether it be a new job, financial worries, loneliness etc., a period of poor mental health can have a major effect on your life and relationships.
Workplace environments must be aware that whether an employee or manager, even the most positive of people can be struggling with their mental health behind closed doors. With 79% of workers worried that they wouldn’t be able to disclose to their employer if they have a mental health condition, the stigma surrounding this topic needs to be broken in order to normalise looking after your mental health. Ensuring staff’s well-being are being looked after is essential post COVID-19 and onwards. As a result, this piece aims to shed light on mental health in the workplace to help staff recognise the warning signs to take action through help and support.
Below we have briefly covered some forms of mental health disorders as well as ways mental health can negatively be affected. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list but some of the more widely known and experienced forms of mental health illnesses.
It is essential for the body to have a regular sleep cycle in order to optimise the function of the brain. Having a lack of sleep can be a major contributor to poor mental health. Not giving yourself enough sleep won’t allow the brain to reset properly and prepare for emotional challenges the next day. This can cause your body to become stressed, low on energy or fatigued which could further prevent you from being able to concentrate, socialise or make decisions. If this becomes an ongoing problem, it can be a huge risk factor for mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
Our sleep can be affected by:
- Existing health conditions
- Late working hours or shift work
Stress isn’t a mental health problem, but it can be a cause or trigger for poor mental health. At some point in life, everyone will experience stress, we all know what it feels like. It may be because you have lots of work putting you under pressure, or stress from upcoming events or worries. For some, stress can be a motivator, pushing them to meet their goals. However, it can easily become overwhelming for an individual. In this sense, stress can cause mental health problems, or make any existing disorders worse. Likewise, mental health problems can be very hard and frustrating to cope with and as a result, cause stress to the body. This process could become an exhausting cycle for a person and can damage both their mental and physical health.
Anxiety and panic attacks
Anxiety can be commonly thought of as feeling nervous, uneasy or worried and for most people, these feelings are easy to manage and only last a limited amount of time. For others, anxiety can start to become a re-occurring feeling which lasts a longer period of time. These feelings of stress, panic and nervousness can prevent them from doing their everyday tasks or entering an unfamiliar social setting. This can be a signal of a mental health problem occurring. When experiencing intense and overwhelming periods of anxiety, their body may trigger a panic attack. Each experience is unique to the individual, but anxiety can become exhausting to try and overcome, taking a toll on their ability to eat, sleep and relax.
Depression is a long-lasting low mood disorder. While it can be described as a constant feeling of sadness, it can affect more than just your emotions. Depression can affect someone mentally and physically decreasing their ability to function at work and at home. Depression can affect a person’s motivation to do or enjoy anything which can slowly deteriorate one’s physical health.
Some symptoms of depression can be described as:
- Low moods
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Suicidal feelings
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder in which unwelcome thoughts or worries are continuously repeated in a person’s mind. It can cause someone to carry out compulsive behaviour’s in order to reduce the anxiety caused by their repetitive thoughts.
There are many misconceptions surrounding OCD, the most common being that they just like to have things ‘neat and tidy’, however, the disorder is much more complex and serious. Thoughts and behaviour’s from the disorder can become extremely obsessive and frustrating, impacting their lives and relationships. This can lead them to becoming more anxious or lonely, leaving them more likely to distance themselves from their social surroundings.
Mental health in the workplace
Poor mental health creates issues not only in a social setting, but also within the workplace, causing over 70 million working days to be lost each year. For both employees and employers, mental health is most commonly the outcome of stress, burnout or exhaustion. This can have severe repercussions for not only oneself, but for the business as a whole.
Below discusses some of the workplaces which are hugely affected by mental health issues
Being self-employed is already an immense pressure to have, not only doing the work but also having to find new business opportunities as well as making sure your finances are covered. According to a report by IPSE, 53% of self-employed respondents stated that finding work and the irregularity of income had a negative impact on their mental health. The future of your business and your own security weighs heavily on your shoulders, which can be quite a daunting prospect. For some, prioritising their business may become more important than taking care of their own wellbeing as it becomes harder to switch off from work. Emotional worries alongside a busy diary could fuel their stress and anxiety and increasing the chances of developing mental health issues.
The skilled trades sector represents trades such as plumbers, electricians and gas fitters alongside many more. Similarly, Electrical Trade reported that 70% of the trade and construction industry are self-employed or have just one employee, so are faced with just as many of the issues previously mentioned. Although working in the skilled trades sector can be very successful and rewarding for an individual, it can also be very isolating. With long hours working on your own with no one to talk to or vent any frustrations to, as well as issues such as the rising threat of tool theft, the skilled trades sector has just as much potential for mental health issues to occur.
Conversely, the skilled trades sector faces a lot of harmful gender stereotypes. There are a lot of prejudices surrounding the industry, with people stereotyping tradespeople to be pre-dominantly male. Their characters are typically associated with being strong and masculine, making it harder for those to be able to open up in the fear of being told to ‘man up’. According to Electrical Trade Magazine, skilled trades have a 35% higher risk of suicide than the male national average due to hiding emotions and unsuitably dealing with them.
Hospitality staff are given the responsibility of looking after their customers with goodwill and making sure they enjoy their experience, whether that be at a hotel, bar or restaurant. For most hospitality businesses, their success heavily depends on the reputation from customers. This means that as well as being able to do your job to a high standard, the service must be carried out with a smile no matter how long or strenuous your shift may be.
As a result, hospitality workers are faced with an immense amount of pressure, with 74% of hospitality workers reporting being abused by customers. The importance to uphold the reputation of the business becomes more important than looking after their own well-being. With 84% of hospitality workers admitting that their job causes them stress, it’s no surprise that the industry faces severe concerns surrounding worker’s mental health.
A survey conducted by The Caterer in 2018 revealed that 59% of hospitality workers currently had a mental health problem. 56% of these had not made their employer aware due to fearing of the stigma surrounding mental health in the industry. These stats suggest that the industry’s working conditions contribute to poor mental health amongst their workers with little support in place for workers to address their wellbeing.
It’s no surprise that working in the healthcare industry is undoubtedly stressful. Shift work and long hours can easily put the body out of routine. Alongside this, shifts can be unpredictable, increasing stress and trauma when dealing with patients. According to Nursing Standard, 75% of nurses surveyed said they never had time for a break in their working day. Going without the full entitlement to rest and possibly lack of food and drink to refuel their energy could evidently lead to an increase in negative mental health.
The Society of Occupational Medicine reported that even before the pandemic, challenging working conditions led to widespread mental health problems for medical staff, who are already at greater risk of stress and burnout than those in most other jobs. However, many staff were reluctant to ask for support, as managers were poorly trained and lacked knowledge on how to deal with employees’ mental well-being.
Teachers have been reported to be consistently exposed to poor mental health and wellbeing. In the UK, from 2016-2019, the average rate for depression or anxiety for people employed in primary and secondary education was significantly higher compared to other industry sectors. Teachers face an increased workload alongside the pressure of being responsible for student’s educational results. Alongside this, teachers have to deal with misbehaving students, challenging parents or even troubles with colleagues. Much like previous industries mentioned, management are reported to show a lack of support or knowledge on how to advise on employees’ wellbeing. As a result, a third of new teaching recruits leave the job within the first five years.
How has COVID-19 impacted mental health in the workplace?
Whilst mental health was already a concern, the coronavirus pandemic has hugely affected mental health in the workplace. Adults in the UK are increasingly becoming worried about the effect that COVID-19 is imposing on their job security, finances and wellbeing.
Economically, the impact of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has unequally affected people in terms of mental health. While most industries were furloughed or made redundant, those working in the healthcare sector had no other choice but to keep going as front line workers. In a recent YouGov survey, it was reported that 50% of healthcare staff admitted that their mental health had been impacted by COVID-19 due to either worries about family safety, patient safety or due to the lack adequate personal protective equipment. As well as having to work long, unsociable hours, while confronting challenges such as social distancing and the outbreak itself, staying mentally healthy has become incredibly difficult. TIME recently revealed that doctors and nurses have admitted to harbouring dark feelings due to grief, fear and frustration. As a result, one in five healthcare professionals are more likely to leave the profession due to COVID-19, risking extreme staff shortages.
Contrastingly, whilst it has been found that mental health issues have increased from 6% to 26% for self-employed workers. A survey from Mind shows that 29% of adult’s mental health has stayed the same and 12% admit that their mental health has improved. Workplace Insight reported that 67% of freelancers used the lockdown period to better their wellbeing. By using the time to exercise, sleep, invest in hobbies and maintain a healthy diet, freelancers were able to support their mental health. As well as this, the coronavirus pandemic has seemed to open up the discussion about mental health, a topic that was previously taboo for many industries. For example, male workers in skilled trades feel less likely to seek support when working in fears of appearing weak or vulnerable when working in a stereotypical “macho culture”. such as skilled trades. Throughout lockdown, Mind also reported that 17% of self-employed workers looked for help through mental health helplines and online advice. Therefore, while the pandemic has created several negative impacts, it has encouraged people to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
How workplaces can change to improve mental health conditions?
There is no doubt that the concept of returning to work is scary and nerve-wracking for some. In fact, a report by Cardinus Risk Management reported that 35% of adults felt uncomfortable about returning back to the workplace. Therefore, it is more important now than ever to make sure that businesses are putting in steps to look after the mental health for staff, including supervisors and managers.
Below are some simple steps that businesses can consider taking on to improve the wellbeing of staff, both while working at home and in the workplace:
- It is important to only follow and share information from reputable sources regarding COVID-19. Websites such as Gov uk or Public Health England/Public Health Wales/ Health Protection Scotland are sufficient in providing accurate information regarding COVID-19.
- Keep in regular contact with your colleagues and employees. Acknowledging that workers will naturally have stresses and concerns and having a daily check up on their wellbeing could be enough to make them feel more comfortable in speaking about any mental health worries they may have. Informal chats give staff the opportunity to temporarily break from any work stresses or concerns, reminding them that everyone is in the same boat and allowing them to feel more comfortable during working hours.
- Some businesses may be able to provide access to mental health support services, including online training and courses. Online training can help raise awareness on mental health issues, how to spot them amongst colleagues and yourself, and most importantly how to manage them in the long term.
- Alternatively, you can provide staff with the necessary websites and online advice if they wish to seek help outside of work. Both forms of support should be advertised sufficiently within the business to make sure staff are aware that there is support available if they need it.
- Its highly likely that the pandemic will be a continuous topic of conversation. To avoid spreading inaccurate information, try to keep rumours and gossip to a minimum. This can help calm people’s anxiety throughout the day.
- Encourage positive coping mechanisms at work, such as if you feel overwhelmed with your workload, to take a breather or reaching out to someone to talk through your concerns or troubles.
- Encourage a healthy work/life balance with all employees. This includes taking full length lunch breaks and time away from your working environment, not working at weekends or a lot of overtime, getting some fresh air regularly, and taking holidays. These are just some steps to consider to help avoid burnout and negative mental health amongst your employees.
Negative mental health costs the UK economy as much as £34.9 billion a year. Throughout the pandemic, the world has shed light on the effects of mental health, evidently showing that it can affect anyone at any time. Stopping the stigma surrounding mental health is now crucial throughout these unprecedented times. Businesses should encourage staff to speak up about their mental health in order to improve their wellbeing in the workplace. Employees should no longer feel as if mental health is frowned upon in the workplace and industries should make their support services a priority for employees in the future.