Mental Health Awareness and Early Intervention – Information for Managers
Mental health issues are more common than you might think. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. Living with mental health issues is difficult for those who suffer from them and for their family, friends and colleagues. Despite the fact that depression, stress and anxiety are common, they are mostly left untreated and can become acute and even chronic. People often find it difficult to admit they are struggling, even to themselves. They may hope that if they try hard enough, they’ll just ‘snap out of it’.
Stigma and discrimination associated with mental health issues often act as barriers to seeking support:
Cultural reluctance to admit to mental health problems for fear of stigma or loss of self-respect can lead to an employee waiting until relationships in the workplace have become too difficult to ask for help.
Who is vulnerable or ‘at risk’?
Risk or vulnerability factors increase the chances of mental health problems; this does not mean that they actually cause problems or that a person will necessarily develop problems if the factors apply to them. Risk/vulnerability varies for different people; it also varies for each person at different points in time.
Situational factors that threaten psychological wellbeing include:
- Recent change in circumstances such as moving house, change of workplace or responsibilities
- Recent bereavement
- Divorce / Separation / Relationship breakdown
- Recent traumas
- Marital status
- Living alone
- Financial problems
Personal factors also have an impact on risk. These include gender (women are more likely to be diagnosed with common mental health problems than men, although men are less likely to seek help), age, ethnic background, history of mental health problems and lifestyle (drugs, alcohol, smoking, diet, sleep). A person’s mental and emotional traits and thought processes may also predispose them to issues. These could include avoidance / procrastination, perfectionism / self-criticism tendencies and thinking “traps” e.g. minimising the positive and maximising the negative.
Certain occupational groups in the UK have higher incidences of work-related mental health difficulties including: teachers, nurses, social workers, probation officers, police officers, the armed forces, medical practitioners, clerical, secretarial, administrative support workers, machine operators, industrial workers and salespeople.
Reasons suggested for high rates of mental disorder in particular occupations are associated with high levels of job demand combined with lack of long-term security and particularly high emotional demands in working with people.
There is strong evidence to suggest that those deemed to be at risk are most likely to benefit from individual support (including personal support, training, counselling and skills acquisition) rather than organisational approaches to managing common mental health difficulties.
What signs may indicate that an individual might benefit from support?
The most obvious things to look out for are changes in behaviour. An outgoing individual might become introverted, lose interest in work and give up socialising with colleagues. An employee might become unusually forgetful or seem tired, irritable or have trouble concentrating. A reliable team member may start making mistakes, failing to meet deadlines or being unable to make decisions. These could all be signs of depression, stress or anxiety. The most common symptoms are:
|Tiredness and loss of energy||Finding it hard to function at work|
|Sleeping problems – difficulties in||Feeling anxious all the time|
|Sadness that doesn’t go away||Loss of appetite|
|Getting off to sleep or waking up||Avoiding other people, sometimes even close friends|
|Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem||Physical aches and pains|
|Difficulty concentrating||Thinking about suicide and death|
|Very strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness||Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness|
|Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting||Self-harm|
What are the benefits of encouraging employees to seek support early?
It has been estimated that 91 million working days are lost each year due to mental health difficulties in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive also estimated that mental health problems are the second largest category of occupational ill health after musculoskeletal disorders. 11.3 million working days were lost in Great Britain in 2013/14 as a result of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. On average, each person suffering from these conditions took 23 days off work.
People with mental health issues do not necessarily need to take time off work if they are appropriately supported and encouraging them to seek help early on can be of real benefit. Not only does the prevention of mental health-related sickness absence benefit your team and the organisation as a whole, it can also have a positive impact on the individual as being at work is linked to good psychological health and wellbeing.
Not everyone needs structured courses of sessional counselling; sometimes a single call may be all that is needed to address the issues, especially if help is sought early on. If a course of sessional counselling is advisable, usually the earlier this is started, the better the outcome. If employees and managers learn to spot symptoms early and identify situations that may be emotionally or mentally challenging, problems can be prevented from escalating.
What can you do?
Individual team members may feel reluctant to approach you for support or even access services that are available to them. However, there are a number of simple ways of supporting your team as a whole, which don’t result in you taking on the role of a counsellor yourself!
- Monitoring changes in behaviour and performance of both individuals and your team
- Developing an awareness of the effect circumstantial factors can have on individuals and team members (these could be both personal and work-related)
- Encouraging employees to talk openly about mental health issues
- Raising awareness of support structures within the organisation through staff briefing sessions
- Sign-posting individual employees to support from MindSpace247 and other sources. Reassure them that the service is confidential.
Calling MindSpace247 to speak to a counsellor yourself, even if just to find out more about the services on offer, will give you the confidence to recommend the service to others. And perhaps most importantly…….
Making sure you are looking after and monitoring your own mental, physical and emotional health
Broaching the subject of mental and emotional health with employees can feel difficult – managers often say they feel uncomfortable suggesting an employee seeks support, sensing that they may feel singled-out or that there is an implication that they are weak or unable to cope. There isn’t a standard way of beginning this conversation although ‘How are you?’ is often a good place to start! These conversations should always take place in private but calling someone into your office specifically to address this could set you off on the wrong foot. One to one meetings offer a good opportunity to suggest that an employee may benefit from some support from MindSpace247.
Anecdotally, managers have found that having the option to sign-post employees to MindSpace247 helps them maintain their boundaries as a manager. It can be difficult to define where supervision/management ends and counselling begins and managing work performance and behaviour often links in with personal issues. Having the option to offer counselling support to those that are experiencing difficulties can give you a valuable ’out’ in terms of exploring emotional issues, helping you and your employee to focus on work.
‘Embedding’ the service within your team/department
Briefing your team on a regular basis about the support that is available will help raise awareness and continually reinforce the importance of mental and emotional health. Making this a collective activity and part of team culture may help ensure that individual team members don’t feel singled-out if you then suggest they seek support.
Admitting we need support is not a sign of weakness. Encouraging a colleague to take positive, proactive steps to improve their wellbeing is a fantastic thing to do for the employee themselves, the team and the organisation. Helping others is also great for our own emotional wellbeing.
In terms of work-related issues, some people will appear to ‘cope’ better with stress than others. There are all sorts of reasons why people cope with and approach challenges differently; personal factors could compound work-related difficulties and people’s cultural and social backgrounds and previous experiences can also affect the way they deal with things.
An employee doesn’t need to be suffering from a specific mental or emotional health issue to access support from MindSpace247. Our therapists can offer:
- Development of communication & assertiveness skills
- Guidance on dealing with and avoiding confrontation
- Advice on work-life balance and managing personal resources (prioritising, managing expectations, self-care)
- Stress resilience strategies
- An independent, unbiased listening ear for work-related or personal difficulties
Counselling can provide simple, practical and effective coping strategies that can offer employees ‘tools’ to face future challenges both at home and in the workplace.
A team’s mental health is as vital to its effective operation as its physical health.