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May 13, 2022
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Improve mental health in the workplace

By Adrian Bishop
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Improve mental health in the workplace
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Mental health disorders are not like physical illnesses. There may not be clearly visible symptoms and you may not realise your colleagues are struggling.

Mental health problems are not solely conditions that cause stress, anxiety and loneliness. They include serious, persistent and harrowing disorders, some of which are brought about by genetic issues.

Nevertheless, mental health issues in the workplace are increasingly common and have been exacerbated by isolation and loneliness due to COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

In England alone, it is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health problem of some kind every year, according to mental health charity, Mind.

One in six people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem, in any week.

Just one in 8 adults with a mental health problem in the UK is getting any kind of treatment, it is estimated.

And one in 10 are troubled by anxiety, stress and depression - the most common mental health disorders.

Survey findings highlighted by the ICAEW (The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) suggest the issue is even more widespread, with more than half of accountants (55%) suffering from stress and burnout and four out of five accountants believing that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the industry. This compares to around 41% of those in other sectors.

To help, ICAEW, in association with the caba charity for chartered accountants, has set up an online hub to provide resources to support mental health and wellbeing.

Businesses can help employees who have mental health issues by:

  • Providing strategic support
  • Ensuring everyone buys into wellbeing provision from the bottom to the top
  • Introducing credible role models
  • Providing training to help line managers talk about mental health
  • Protecting those who seek help from being stigmatised.

Advice is also provided on how business owners can look after their mental health and how to prioritise wellbeing when returning to the office after working from home during the pandemic.

Mental Health Awareness week zooms in on loneliness

Every year, Mental Health Awareness Week highlights that mental health matters. This year, from 9-15 May, the focus is on loneliness and how we can tackle it together.

Event organiser, the Mental Health Foundation says, “Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic.

“Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health and we need to find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this.”

Mental health, loneliness and stress can be costly both personally and for businesses, the charity says. Mental health problems in the workplace are all too common, with 70 million workdays lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, which cost employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

But the cost of mental health is not just measured solely in monetary terms, but the effect on human lives. And whatever the cost, society is wise to concentrate on investing in prevention rather than cure.

One solution is for businesses to have open, authentic conversations about mental health in the workplace, both individually and on a strategic level. “This is more important than ever as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.”

Here are some tips gathered by Mind on how to improve mental health in the workplace.

Better connected

  • Feeling connected and valued by others is a basic need for us all and helps to promote mental health and mental wellbeing and aid stress management. But during prolonged COVID lockdowns, many of us have struggled with loneliness, as it has been more difficult for us to connect face-to-face in our personal and work life. Some ideas for improving connection include:
  • Talk rather than sending an email
  • Get to know someone new
  • Tell your family, friends and co-workers how you are feeling
  • Arrange to travel to work with a colleague, so you can talk

Get physical

Research suggests exercise is good for your physical and mental health, as it can help to ease depression and anxiety and reduce stress. It does not have to be an intense workout – here are some other ideas of ways to try to increase physical activity for improving overall wellbeing:

  • If running is too much, try more walking
  • Take the stairs more often, if you can do so
  • Cycling to work rather than taking the car, can benefit your physical and mental health
  • Enjoy a walk at lunchtime. Why not go with a colleague and get to know them better?

For those with mobility issues and physical disabilities, there are some useful suggestions for boosting physical activity in a safe and manageable way at websites such as Versus Arthritis, the NHS and CDC. Scope UK and theDisabiliityTrust are among organisations that offer practical information and emotional support.

Education and learning

Learning at any age in life provides satisfaction, improved self-esteem and social interaction. It also helps you advance in your work. Studies show that by setting and reaching goals, you enjoy added mental wellbeing. You can:

  • Enrol in educational programmes to learn more. Your company may help.
  • Make more time to read
  • Join a book club

Giving

Giving is better than receiving, the saying goes – and research shows that those that help others tend to be happier. This is particularly true if it becomes a regular habit. This does not have to be a monetary donation. Why not give your time to a worthy project? This will help you form new relationships, too. Here are some practical ideas:

  • Find out if there are opportunities at work to give time to a worthy project. iResearch Services supports the Giving for Good Foundation.
  • Volunteer for a charity – the Mental Health Foundation or Mind would appreciate the support
  • Organise a fun fundraising event with help from your family, friends, work colleagues and social support network.

iResearch Services HR and Wellbeing Manager, Jacqueline Miller, says, “We believe that physical and mental health wellbeing translates into a happy and successful workforce.

“Mental health, physical health, purposefulness and emotional wellbeing all help employees to be their best and to be better able to cope with the unprecedented changes that are happening in the world, particularly from the pandemic.”

The company offers a range of internal holistic workplace wellness programmes covering physical and mental health to support employees and provides opportunities for recognition, appreciation and rewards.

“We bring out the abilities of employees by providing training, upskilling and education initiatives. Connectivity and creativity are encouraged, along with support to enable hybrid and remote working.”

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