What’s the Mental Health Foundation doing about it?
Talking about mental health can be a challenge, and that’s only heightened when it’s in the workplace. Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson offers some insight into mental health problems and what employers can do to help their staff.
Are mental health problems becoming more common among workers?
In New Zealand, one in five people over 16 years of age experience a mental health problem in any year and almost two in five adults have experienced a mental illness over their lifetime. In any workplace, there will be a range of mental health experiences across employees and this will change over time. In the past few years, we’ve seen a high level of interest and commitment from workplaces to support the mental well-being of their staff. This is in part due to the new Health and Safety Act which outlines that employers have an obligation to consider the mental health of their employees in order to create a safe psychological workplace.
There’s also a greater understanding now that excessive stress is a workplace hazard and for people to perform at their best, the workplace environment needs to be accepting, inclusive and willing to talk about mental health.
It’s been said ‘anxiety’ is the one word defining the modern workplace. How did we get to this stage?
The work environment has changed dramatically over the past two to three decades – gone is the normal 9-5 workday. Technology means many people are expected to be ‘on’ constantly, work patterns are changing with many businesses operating 24/7 and often people are having to travel overseas for work. It seems there’s always something that needed to be done ‘yesterday’. These sorts of pressures can take a toll on employees, with many finding it hard to keep up and cope with the demands of the modern workforce.
Employee health affects the workplace and the workplace affects the health of employees. It’s important for employers to understand the difference between pressure, which keeps us all going and makes us productive, and stress, which makes unmanageable demands that damage both employees and the business. There should also be an awareness that life outside of work affects the well-being of workers. Do people living with mental health problems generally express that they are struggling or do they try to hide it?
For an employee living with a mental health problem, it can be really hard to tell a colleague or manager for fear they may be seen as weak or unable to do their job well enough. They may be worried that it won’t stay confidential. On the flip side, employers are often reluctant to talk about mental health. It can feel too personal, and they may be nervous about saying the wrong thing, or not having the answers or knowledge. Despite this, the benefits of being open and talking about mental health at work are huge.
For employees to feel comfortable being open about their mental health issues at work, it’s essential the work environment is one where talking about mental health is normal and where people know they will be accepted, included and supported. To find out more, visit www.mentalhealth.org.nz/openminds
Is there a stigma regarding mental health issues in New Zealand? How can we move beyond this?
Although mental health problems are very common, there’s still a stigma and discrimination towards people living with a mental illness.
All employers and employees benefit when a workplace demonstrates a commitment to countering that stigma and discrimination and providing a mentally healthy work environment. When this happens, all employees (regardless of whether they have a mental health problem or not) feel safe and valued and are less likely to act in discriminatory ways towards each other or participate in bullying or harassment.
The best way to counter mental illness stigma and discrimination in the workplace is to have an open dialogue about mental health and let your employees know support is available if they need it. What can advertising and marketing executives do to ensure the mental well-being of their staff?
There’s several things executives can do. At the top level, it’s crucial to create a friendly, respectful, communicative work environment, with a culture of flexibility, inclusion and diversity. This is not only good for people with experience of mental illness - it’s good for everyone!
If you notice a team member is struggling with their mental health, don’t ignore it. But be aware, talking about personal struggles can be difficult and they might get emotional, embarrassed or upset. It’s good to remember that no special skills are required to talk about mental health. You just need to be empathetic, approachable and willing to listen.
Finally, it’s important to promote positive well-being and encourage employees to do the things that help them to de-stress and feel good. For some people, this means taking a walk around the block, while others might like to meditate or do something that engages a different part of their brain like learning a new language. A good thing to look at is how your employees can incorporate the ‘Five Ways to Well-being’ into their daily lives. These are: connect, give, take notice, keep learning, and be active. To find out more, visit www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/