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Why should your business invest in mental health?

After completing a Mental Health First Aid course, account director Rose Hayes gives some tips on how to spot, understand, and support colleagues under pressure.

The importance of mental health awareness

Not only is today the first day of Learning at Work Week 2019 and Mental Health Awareness Week, but I’m fresh from completing a Mental Health First Aid course by MHFA England (the only licensed course in the UK).

As a result, I’m buzzing with ideas of how to help my colleagues (and myself) battle the everyday stresses of a life in marketing and comms – not to mention the wide array of problems that life can throw at any of us, at any time.

Mental health (both in the positive well-being and mindfulness sense and in the more commonly used negative sense) is slowly becoming part of the collective consciousness.

The next step is crucial; actual recognition by employers that mental health and well-being is not just a discussion about illness, but about creating a happy and productive team that benefits your business as well as the employees themselves.

Hopefully this blog will provide a few tips on what you can do to look after yourself and your colleagues.

Why should you or your boss care about mental health?

The recent CIPR State of the Profession research showed that 23% of people in PR have taken sick leave due to stress, anxiety, or depression.

This is perhaps not surprising and, even outside of PR and comms, equates to a potential business crisis in this country.

But the most worrying result of the CIPR survey was that almost a quarter (23%) of respondents who discussed concerns about their mental health with a manager said that nothing happened as a result.

It’s clear that this is building to become a national HR issue, particularly for any business looking to attract and retain senior staff, as well as those just wanting a happier and healthier team.

Just consider our culture of growing ‘presenteeism’ (attending work when sick) as well as absenteeism.

Do you think your company has a potential issue?

A great way to summarise the problem is to consider whether your team ever stops and has the “time to sharpen their axe”:

Not only should employers and colleagues care about mental well-being due to its universal scope, but simply because it’s easy to make improvements that are likely to have a significant impact on productivity and the work environment.

Here are the top points from the MHFA England course that I think businesses should challenge themselves with:

1. Improve your knowledge

Awareness and knowledge really are king.

The symptoms and effects of negative mental health issues are broad.

Arming yourself with information is the first step to having healthy conversations with your colleagues who might be experiencing stress levels that can quickly become anxiety and depression if not addressed.

Education is also a crucial step in destigmatising mental health problems and making it just part of the conversation.

The purpose of the MHFA England course is to predominately spot symptoms and begin to open dialogue with anyone who might have poor mental health or be suffering from the negative effects of stress.

I can’t recommend the course highly enough (it comes in half day, full day, and two day formats) if you want to feel comfortable with supporting others, but as a starter for 10, these impactful videos will make you and others understand the value of mental health as a topic.

This fantastic animation explains why medical depression is so debilitating:

An emotional testimony of one of just a few that have survived jumping from The Golden Gate Bridge:

2. Be aware of your frame of reference

Concerns about “what are the right questions” and “what if I make things worse” can prevent essential conversations from taking place.

One of the main takeaways from the first aid course was simply having the confidence to ask “what can I do to help you” without confusing things by applying your own frame of reference.

As a quick description, your frame of reference can be summarised by thinking of the three things that mean the most to you and how you see the world; is it your religion, where you were born, your family…?

Often asking “what’s wrong”, “why do you feel like that” or “what’s happened” is more for your benefit that the other person.

Take some time to think what your frame of reference might be and keep this in mind if you’re trying to have a supportive conversation.

3. Realise it’s not your responsibility to fix someone

Another very strong and clear message from the MHFA England course; we can support and suggest, but don’t take on the responsibility of fixing or rescuing someone.

It’s great to ask people what their experience is and validate their feelings or story.

This is where the ALGEE process comes in:

Lots of information about ALGEE is available online if you want to find out more.

4. Get started – be kind and think about the work environment

One of the many reasons that it’s vital more HR, MDs and CEOs complete a mental health first aid course is that there needs to be fundamental changes to traditional workplace attitudes.

Without this fresh perspective, it’ll be difficult to prevent the ever-increasing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as related illnesses that can impact most people.

Here are a few suggestions to get started:

Encourage exercise and fresh air

Even if it’s just using your lunch break, going outside improves well-being.

Go further and complete training with a fantastic organisation, such as our partner charity the Nottingham School of Boxing, which harnesses physical exercise to support those with mental health issues.

Keep all colleagues connected

Isolation can cause and acerbate negative feelings.

Ensure employees have someone they can confide in (Cartwright has a successful line management process, for instance) and consider whether sending someone home sick is the right thing.

Will that just isolate them further as they feel pressured to stay at home and not be seen outside?

Perhaps the best thing for an employee under stress is to tell them to go on holiday for the weekend and order some self-care!

Reward working the 9 to 5

The UK is trapped in a culture of working all hours meaning you are a better employee.

Yes, emergencies happen, and we all need to stay late sometimes, but that shouldn’t be a marker of dedication or a contributor to promotion.

Self-promo

Shout about the great things you are doing to encourage well-being to reassure employees that sharing their own mental health issues won’t impact work possibilities.

Destigmatise mental health issues and watch as more people shout for help on the approach to burn-out and before they need to take time out of the business.

Thanks to Cartwright for investing in me and supporting my interest in the MHFA England course as part of its CPD programme.

The result will be a staff well-being policy and an open-door policy to support any colleagues who want to talk.

This will be an ever-evolving piece of work but I’m over the moon that a positive discussion is taking place in our agency to retain our talent and become even more productive.

Are you looking for a new employer that understands the importance of a good work/life balance? We are always interested in hearing from talented people who might want to join the Cartwright team. Get in touch with us to find out more about any vacancies.

By Rose Hayes

Rose brings over 10 years' experience in PR working across the Midlands and UK for a range of clients in B2B and B2C sectors, including FTSE 100 companies specialising in building products, heating, and ventilation such as Travis Perkins plc and Tarmac.

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