Starting a conversation about mental health issues can help you and others get support where needed
by Bethan Rees
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World Mental Health Day is on 10 October and, as the World Health Organization reports, it "comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic". As the day-to-day reality of working and living under the cloud of a pandemic continues – with all the varying restrictions on daily lives that this brings – mental health issues are reportedly on the rise. According to a UK-based forecast from the Centre for Mental Health published 1 October 2020, "up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the UK’s population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis".
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reports some of the early research into the health impacts of lockdown, "including findings of fatigue, musculoskeletal conditions, poor work-life balance, reduced exercise and increased alcohol consumption". In relation to mental health, "employees were reporting reduced motivation, loss of purpose, anxiety and isolation".
Of course, mental health in the workplace was a problem long before the pandemic, but it has shone a particularly bright spotlight on the issue. Talking about mental health problems is just one way to combat the issues, and it also helps break down the stigma attached to doing so.
The value of talking
The CISI's mental health portal
offers resources, information and links to organisations to help start a conversation about mental health. It points out that, "Despite the rise in advocacy for mental health resources, the conversation of mental health is often seen as taboo within the financial sector. In our 2019 members’ survey, 45% of participants said that they would not feel comfortable speaking to their manager if they felt stressed, anxious or depressed."
In a CISI video featured on the portal, Jonathan Phelan, the director and founder of Evenhood, discusses his experience of mental health issues and the importance of talking about it. Evenhood is a social enterprise that aims to help people have more effective wellbeing conversations and grow in resilience, and this idea was born out of his experience in opening up to his employer about his mental health issues. He talks about how he didn't initially speak out about his problems due to the perceived stigma attached to it, but how his life changed for the better once he did.
In another CISI video, Miles Kean, executive director at Coutts within the entrepreneurs division, describes his struggle with mental health. He also says that "speaking up is really important", and he believes that if he had opened up, he could've sought help before it became significantly serious. He adds: "Don't be afraid of the stigma, I've had nothing but support."
Time to Change, a charity that aims to end mental health discrimination, has over 1,500 personal stories about why mental health problems matter. By sharing experiences, Time to Change believes we can end the stigma.
How to start a conversation
If you believe you are experiencing a mental health issue, or have identified the issue, the next step to take is talking to someone. In a CISI interview, Dr Stephen Pereira, a consultant psychiatrist who has more than 33 years' experience, recommends talking to a good friend or a partner about what it is you are experiencing, and to have no shame or embarrassment about that. Or, he adds, if you feel comfortable talking about it to someone at work, for example someone in HR or your manager, this is another path you could take.
For managers who think one of their employees is struggling with mental health, Bupa says: "If you think one of your team is having difficulties, it’s important to talk to them about it early on. This can help you understand the situation and work together to agree appropriate adjustments to prevent things from getting worse." It recommends you take this conversation into a private room where the employee feels at ease, and to avoid intimidating offices or sitting on the other side of a desk – "this feels more like an interview" it says. "Switch off your phone and make sure you won’t be interrupted. Turn towards your employee, maintain good eye contact and keep your body language relaxed and open (don’t cross your arms or look distracted)." Of course, if you are working from home and an office isn't available to use, this conversation can be had via a video call and the same rules apply regarding body language. Although it may feel challenging to feel a connection via video call, this could actually help an employee who is nervous to speak out, as it could feel more informal.
For employees who want to start a conversation with someone at work, the Mental Health Foundation's How to support mental health at work publication has some guidance. "Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy," it says. "It can be hard to talk about feelings at work. If you have colleagues you can talk to, or a manager who asks how you are at supervision sessions, it can really help. Identify someone you feel comfortable with and who will be supportive." It also says that by talking about how you feel, especially if you're a leader, this could encourage others to do the same. It adds: "If you don’t feel able to talk about feelings at work, make sure there’s someone you can discuss work pressures with – partners, friends and family can all be a sounding board."
There are plenty more tips and resources on the mental health portal if you feel you are struggling, or if you want to help others. Only by speaking out about mental health issues will the stigma dissolve, and people can receive the help they need with no shame attached.