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.

New Zealand Marketing - - Editorial -

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/

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