A Short Guide to Mental Health Awareness at Work

Sep 7, 2021 | First Aid

Mental health awareness at work is more important than ever in 2021. Good mental health at work can mean a boost in productivity, a positive attitude about work, and ultimately saves money for employers. What is mental health awareness, and why should you be aiming to create a culture of mental wellbeing in your workplace?

What is mental health awareness? 

Mental health is a prevalent conversation today more than ever, especially amongst younger people. The term mental health refers to a wide range of disorders that, while they may not be visible physically visible, can have detrimental effects on your physical and mental wellbeing.

Some of the disorders that mental health refers to are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Behavioural and emotional disorders in children
  • Bipolar affective disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dissociation and dissociative disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Not only does mental health affect the way people think, but it can affect their ability to carry out basic tasks, which can then develop into further problems. For example, depression often affects a person’s sleep. People suffering from depression might experience insomnia, which in turn might affect their ability to carry out their work as usual. This might lead to time taken off work, or if left untreated, can lead to more serious issues.

There is increasing evidence that clinical depression in particular takes a serious toll on physical health. Depression can leave you feeling tired and low in energy, which causes the person to reduce the time they spend doing physical activity. Because physical activity releases endorphins that interact with your brain to release chemicals that improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress, and can act as sedatives.

This means many people with depression could see their symptoms improve after exercising, however, they may not try this treatment due to low energy levels. This can become a vicious cycle and makes treating depression a lot more complicated and difficult than it seems.

Why is mental health awareness important?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 700,000 people die every year from suicide, not including attempted suicide. This makes it the fourth biggest killer of people ages 15-19 years old, who make up the majority of Depression cases. It is estimated that 20% of teens will experience depression before reaching adulthood, making it one of the most common issues with mental health in the UK, along with mixed anxiety. This number is generally higher for females than it is for males.

Mental health awareness is important because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Many people with mental health issues are never diagnosed because they are not aware of the symptoms, or have been taught that said the problem is not a factual illness. This means mental health disorders are left untreated, which can worsen the illness and lead to suicide as well as other problems like drug and alcohol dependencies.

Mental health awareness is so important because many people struggling with a mental health condition feel they can’t access help, whether that is from professional services or simply talking to a friend or family member about how they feel.

There has been a taboo around talking of mental health issues, particularly in the workplace, so it’s important that employers show they understand the issues their employees could be facing – even if they aren’t visible to the eye.

According to Mind UK at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

This doesn’t just affect the individual, but research confirms that mental health is costing employees approximately £2.4 billion per year, with 70 million work days lost per year due to poor mental health in employees. Creating a culture where mental health is openly talked about and employees feel encouraged to seek help or guidance is important not only for the individual but also it is financially efficient for companies.

With 58% or individuals experiencing stress at work, 63% experiencing at least mild symptoms of anxiety, and 58% experiencing at least mild symptoms of depression (according to Champion Health), mental health awareness in the workplace is vital in both preventing and helping employees with mental health problems.

How can I recognise poor mental health at work?

Mental health issues, most commonly depression, can exhibit a wide range of symptoms, or none at all. You should be looking out for these common signs when interacting with your employees:

  1.  Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  2. Low levels of engagement
  3. Extremely high and low moods
  4. Excessive fear, worry or anxiety
  5. Social withdrawal
  6. Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  7. Decreased productivity and disinterest in work or everyday activities
  8. Behaviour that seems uncharacteristic for the individual

Check out our article for more information on how to recognise mental health issues in the workplace. 

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean the individual is dealing with a mental health issue at work, however. This could be related to a health issue or something else. They also don’t apply to every mental health condition – as every condition exhibits its own range of symptoms and they can be harder to recognise.

How can I create mental health awareness in my workplace?

Creating a positive attitude surrounding mental health is the first step in bringing mental health awareness to your workplace. Employees will need to feel safe and supported in order to take action about any mental health troubles they are dealing with.

Creating a positive attitude surrounding mental health is the first step in bringing mental health awareness to your workplace. Employees will need to feel safe and supported in order to take action about any mental health troubles they are dealing with.

Looking out for signs of poor mental health, encouraging employees to check in with their own mental health, encouraging contact between employees and loved ones, and promoting breaks, sleep and rest are just a few of the things you can do to create a positive culture surrounding mental health.

Understanding the resources that are available to people suffering from poor mental health is equally important. Helping employees become aware of mental health services such as their GP, counselling or therapy, or the national suicide prevention lifeline, can help that employee and also encourages them to check in on their friends, family, and co-workers. It is important to keep in mind that the pandemic restricted access to some of these services, and mental wellbeing has suffered because of it. One in four people who accessed the NHS mental health service during the pandemic said that their mental health declined because of the lack of face-to-face interviews, technological issues, and concerns about confidentiality, according to Mind UK.

There is also a range of courses intended to provide employers and employees alike with the knowledge to create a positive attitude surrounding mental health in the workplace.

QA Level 2 Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace

Throughout this 1 day course, Learners will develop a greater understanding on the importance of positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and the role that everyone plays in recognising and handling mental health issues at work. Topics covered include: understanding mental health and its importance, promoting positive mental health in the workplace, common mental health conditions, mental health first aid at work action plan, plus much more. Visit course →

QA Level 3 Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Throughout this 2-day course, Learners will develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to actively promote positive mental health in the workplace by covering a range of topics, including: understanding mental health and its importance, own wellbeing as a mental health first aider, common mental health conditions, how to support those experiencing poor mental health at work and much more. Visit course →

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