Blue Monday - Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Last year Inspired Selection attended a talk from George Sullivan at Optimal Minds, a Mental Health Public Speaker, and this Blue Monday we thought it could be a good to time to share the helpful advice they gave and to increase awareness. Optimal Minds are mental health consultants who go into workplaces and ensure there is mental health awareness and that it’s prominent in the workplace, with workshops, training sessions and consultancy. At Inspired we feel it’s really important to get these conversations going and we have noted down some key takeaways from this talk.

Mental health – what is it? It’s your psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. Your ability to enjoy life, overcome negative emotions and adversity, your ability to solve problems and complete day to day tasks. Everyone has it and uses it every second of every day.

Why is it important in the workplace? It was reported that in 2021, anxiety and depression made up 50% of all work-related ill health cases and absences. In 2019 50% of millennials and 75% of Gen Z left roles for mental health reasons, voluntarily or involuntarily. So, it’s bad for the employees, bad for the employers and we want to make sure there are ways to tackle this! Having good mental health means people are able to build better relationships, become more motivated, productive and efficient, with a strong ability to achieve aims, goals and problem solve.

There are a number of illnesses which can affect people, but the one that’s often associated with the workplace is Burnout – this is exhaustion linked to overwork and stress induced from work, which has symptoms like a lack of motivation, fatigue, social isolation, a drop in performance levels and quality in work. Having those symptoms then makes it worse, so it can be a vicious cycle which can also lead to depression.

So how can we support?

  • The first line of defence is talking – very rarely conversations will be around how someone is feeling mentally or emotionally so don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper or offer a chat.
  • Mindfulness techniques can also be really helpful. These are focused around being in the moment, appreciating what’s around you – for example going on walks, going into nature if possible, hearing sounds, sights, smells and observing those. Or even meditation!
  • Getting adequate sleep – 6-8 hours is the optimum time; the brain essentially washes itself and allows you to be ready for the next day.
  • Having a healthy balanced diet with plenty of water – the brain is 70% water and you need minerals for dopamine production.
  • Exercise – it can be walking or running, or any kind of sports activity; it gets dopamine running and gives you a sense of achievement.
  • Therapy – you do not have to be struggling to go to therapy. It gives you a deeper level of self-awareness, allowing you to understand emotions, why you’re feeling that way and what situations make you feel a certain way.
  • Reading – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s a form of escape and allows you to expand your knowledge and allow your brain to rest.
  • Controlling your alcohol intake – alcohol is a depressant, and drinking over the weekend can affect how you’re feeling on a Monday morning!
  • Quizzing puzzles can be good to mental health and getting your brain to solve problems.
  • Consult your GP – they’ll have a whole host of resources.
  • Internal culture changes at work – Optimal Minds look at how employers can change their culture to support mental health – for example sparking up a conversation can create a domino effect, that people then feel comfortable speaking to someone else and it becomes a more general practice.

So how do we open up these conversations? We’ll often say how are you, and the accustomed answer is well thanks – but enquire. Is something stressing them out? Would they like to talk in private? You can offer a shoulder, you’re there to listen. Talking can be like therapy, but less intrusive and deep rooted! Also consider your remote workers – if there aren’t in the office for you to ask in person, maybe ask them for a virtual tea break, give them an opportunity to talk too.

So what about when you’re having these conversations? How do you respond to someone who says they are struggling? Try to avoid telling someone it could be worse, and look at everything they do have, because that can invalidate their struggles. Try instead saying thank you for telling me, and I’m here to listen. You can tell them you’re proud of them for speaking up – poor mental health can make you feel worthless so that might give someone the lift they need. In general, you’re offering an ear to listen, you don’t have to offer any help, but they should also consider speaking to a professional.

What can employers do? Consider having mental health first aiders in the workplace, you can do workshops and training sessions and create a culture from above that cascades down. Managers or above can feel isolated, if they are in control of a team they might not feel they have someone to talk to on their level. Also, the generation of people that weren’t taught about mental health are usually ages 45 and above at the moment. You can also offer one on ones with employees and see if they have suggestions, and look into the source of any issues – is there an area that’s understaffed, or a process or function that could be improved which is causing stress? Consider offering subscriptions to apps like Headspace or Calm, or discounts on Gym memberships. Some employers also offer mental health / wellness days off.

So open up those conversations, try to ensure everyone feels listened to and supported and hopefully there will be healthier, happier and more productive workplaces for 2023!