6 Ways Employers Can Support Good Mental Health
A blocked fire door.
That’s the analogy Matthew Shaw, the UK Futures Editor at BBC uses when trying to relay the importance of embedding good mental health practices within workplace organisations.
“You wouldn’t ever think a blocked fire door is a good thing so find out what you need to do to improve things at work to help people living with or recovering from mental health problems,” he explains. “What is really important is putting mental health work at the heart of everything – appraisals, annual surveys, team meetings and management training. It has to be more than a mental health day.”
Matthew knows first-hand what it’s like to experience a series of knocks that send you into a downward spiral.
In 2014 his 12 year relationship ended and he found himself living on his own for the first time. At the same time he had taken on a stressful role running the BBC’s UK news desk – coordinating and leading all of the coverage for its TV and radio network – and reached a point where he felt as though he could no longer cope.
“I remember emailing my boss to say I was struggling,” he explains. “He emailed me back and said he was surprised as I always looked in control and did a brilliant job.”
Yet Shaw had experienced similar feelings before – when he was 16-years-old in the run up to his GCSEs.
At the time Matthew was worried because he was lethargic and unmotivated.
“I went to the doctor and he blamed it on hayfever,”Matthew recalls. “Then in my twenties at the BBC I had a crippling period of anxiety and despair but hid it as I was worried about my career prospects. I couldn’t see a way out of it. I put my hand up. They gave me four days off and I went back to work.”
Except in 2014 Matthew couldn’t carry on more. In his words he “just broke”.
He picked up his things, walked out and, heartbroken with life, went home and spent hours lying on the hallway floor feeling “utterly empty”.
Matthew had reached rock bottom and something needed to change.
The difficulty for his boss was that he had not displayed any tell-tale signs and on the surface looked to be coping but underneath he had been heading into depression.
Fortunately, his manager did “exactly the right thing” and sought advice.
“At first he simply said ‘are you okay’, ‘please rest’, ‘don’t worry about work’. He called or messaged me each day to see if I wanted to say hi and then he organised a meeting near work but not too close to avoid seeing colleagues. He simply said ‘we miss you, we worry about you and we just want you back when you’re ready’. Incredibly simply but powerful words.”
After a spell off work, Matthew returned to light duties before making a gradual return to his job – each step was managed and discussed.
He was then awarded a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan where he started looking at depression in newsrooms which quickly expanded into all stressful workplaces.
Now, as PUSH facilitator, Matthew also uses his experience to encourage teams to create a workplace that not only encourages openness but builds productivity out of wellbeing.
“The mental health first aid concept is good but it’s like training fire wardens and leaving matches and petrol lying around, or first aiders with an office with broken glass and a hole I the middle of the floor,” he cautions. “There needs to be a change in culture and approach,” he insists.
Last year a report published by the Centre for Mental Health revealed that mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion in 2016.
So what can employers do to help tackle the problem?
Below Matthew rounds up his six top tips.
NEVER TRY TO CURE
It’s natural to start telling someone there are people out there who are more worse off and life isn’t that bad. That’s the worst thing you can say as it just compounds your desolation. Listen, try to understand and empathise. Always urge someone you’re worried about to see a doctor or talk to a professional.
ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION
Are you Okay? It’s all you need to ask to show someone that you’re there for them.
DON’T FORCE IT
If your colleague or friend doesn’t want to talk, just tell them you’re there and you want to help.
TALK AS A TEAM
Try to identify how you can make your workplace more mentally healthy – it’s everyone’s responsibility and something to be shared.
INCORPORATE MENTAL HEALTH INTO POLICIES
Appraisals, annual surveys, team meetings and management training, which could identify potential problems early on.
GET SENIOR MANAGEMENT BUY IN
It’s hard but increasingly big firms are seeing the benefits in employee engagement, reputation and good recruitment. Tell your boss it’s good for their business.
This article is by Helen Gilbert, a freelance journalist who can be found tweeting @gilberthels