Written by:
Georgia Harris

Revoco Talks…mental health challenges in the workplace
with Bristol Mind

World Mental Health Day is coming up on the 10th October. A day dedicated to recognising global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma surrounding mental health.

One in four of us will encounter a mental health challenge at some point in our lives, with work-related stress often acting as a common trigger.

Research carried out by Mind suggests that although businesses have come a long way in recent years when it comes to supporting their employees. There still seems to be a culture of fear and silence around mental health and employees are still not feeling supported by their employers.

We need to lose the stigma.

We’ve spoken before about this, and have shared our own personal stories. But we, like many businesses, want to be sure we know how we can be better, and ensure we’re supporting our staff in the right way when it comes to their mental health. We reached out to Tom Hore, Director at Bristol Mind for advice and a chat about Mental health in the work-place, including understanding the common triggers, recognising the signs of struggle and knowing how to support staff – even when working remotely. Here’s some of the knowledge he shared with us, we hope you find it helpful…

Tom thanks so much for joining us! Can you tell us about Bristol Mind and the work the team does to support people with Mental Health challenges?

Sure! We support over 5,000 people a year through the broad variety of our services. We have a website with details of all our services and other local and national sources of specific and general support for mental health, check it out here – www.bristolmind.org.uk.

In terms of services, we try to cover as many cases and different people as we can. Just some of the services we offer include Mindline, a telephone helpline for emotional support seven nights a week.  A specific helpline supporting people from the transgender community (which is open Mondays and Fridays). A range of mental health advocacy services for people; as well as a low-cost counselling service and specific counselling for people from LGBTQ+ communities. To name a few.

On top of all this, we also provide support to the work of other local mental health organisations.

What can employers incorporate into their business to better support their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

I’d say a good place to start is to read Bristol’s Thriving at Work Report.

But, there are many things employers can do to support better mental health and wellbeing in their workforce. In surveys of staff happiness some of the same things always emerge, a number of which relate to pay and conditions and a number that represent the organisational employer-employee relationships. Generally, staff feel happier where they feel valued, treated fairly, given some autonomy in their work and feel their work is meaningful etc.

Some employers seek to develop a workplace culture that places mental health on a par with physical health including the use of communications, posters and availability of booklets to illustrate the intentions of the organisation.

Also, staff having access to an Employee Assistance Programme which is promoted throughout the organisation on a regular basis. For larger employers, the development of workplace mental health champions who can help the promotion of mental health as a topic for everyone.

Training can be vital for all staff in enabling a greater level of mental health knowledge throughout an organisation. Training for line managers is particularly crucial to help foster a culture where mental health is not a taboo subject.

Regular check-ins with staff can also help facilitate a more open approach.

For some staff, it may be the availability of workplace and working time adjustments that are key to supporting their mental health. This might include; flexibility around hours, redeployment (temp or permanent) and a different approach to disability-related sickness absence, which recognises the impact of long term mental health conditions.

How can you educate staff to spot the first signs of struggle amongst colleagues? What should they do about it if they are concerned about a colleague?

Mental health awareness training is a good place for staff to start, as well as knowledge, it can give people a useful vocabulary for talking about mental health in a way that is non-judgemental and supportive.

There are many potential signs of someone whose mental health is being negatively affected.

– Physical signs; e.g. fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, headaches, sweating, changes in appetite or weight etc.

– Psychological signs; e.g. tearfulness, difficulty taking information in, loss of motivation, loss of humour, lapses in memory and distraction or confusion etc.

– Behavioural signs; e.g. restlessness, increased smoking and drinking, irritability, anger or aggression, increased sickness absence, uncharacteristic problems with colleagues, or working far longer hours etc.

In terms of knowing what to do, training again will help with this. (Click here to see how we can help you.)

What are the main causes or triggers of Mental health problems in the workplace? How can organisations monitor this?

There are many factors that can affect people at work, workplace issues can exacerbate existing mental health problems or cause issues that then become problems for people outside work.

Some of the key factors identified in causing problems for people are; long hours and no breaks; unrealistic expectations or deadlines; high-pressure environments; poor working environments; unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work; negative relationships or poor communication; workplace culture or lack of management support; job insecurity or change management; high-risk roles and lone working.

Some of the best forms of monitoring come from organisations being open about mental health and acknowledging the importance of good mental health, it helps when organisations know their staff and managers have good relationships with people they manage, enabling staff to feel able to be more open about their problems.

Are there any patterns or changes you have noticed in regards to mental health challenges as a result of the global pandemic?

National Mind produced a report on this early in the pandemic Click here

The Mental Health Foundation has also produced research on this, click here.

There has definitely been a significant increase in the numbers of people whose mental health has been affected by the anxiety, loneliness and isolation of the accompanying lockdown and social distancing measures.

Many people are facing increased uncertainty in housing and employment, while existing economic inequalities have been exacerbated causing those in poorer economic circumstances to have increased anxiety.

Many people who had pre-existing mental health problems have found it harder to access services and general support during lockdown.

Younger people are another group where many aspects of life have been significantly affected, with uncertainty of employment, housing, relationships and other opportunities have been curtailed.

Do you have any tips for managers on how to support their team’s mental health while working remotely?

We have some very useful short mental health and wellbeing related videos on our YouTube channel including a specific one on this topic… 

Stay connected to staff. In an office environment, it often needs no special effort to see or informally speak to a member of staff; however with remote working  it’s imperative to be more proactive about this to ensure regular contact, whether this is one to one, within teams or whole organisation meetups.

Encourage staff.  Make sure that they can spend work time being sociable with colleagues using Zoom, Teams etc. and that this doesn’t have to be restricted for work use solely. Ensure that any support mechanisms that are available (EAP etc) are well promoted within the organisation.

More guidance can be found on our website about this but we are also happy to advise businesses on how to handle this. Feel free to get in touch with us here.

Want to know how you can better support your staff and colleagues? Visit the Bristol Mind website here.

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