Mental Health Awareness Week: how to talk about mental health at work

Mental Health Awareness Week: how to talk about mental health at work

One in three of us experience a mental health problem at work, but people still class it as an awkward, difficult, or inappropriate topic to discuss in the workplace

According to Time to Change, 95% of employees that call in sick because of stress will give a different reason.

One in three of us experience a mental health problem at work, but people still find class it as an awkward, difficult, or inappropriate topic to discuss in the workplace.

So much so that out of all the respondents in our Accountancy Age mental health in the workplace survey, almost half, 46%, said mental health was a taboo subject.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and one change all organisations need to make is to normalise and neutralise mental health conversations. So how do you talk about mental health at work?

1. Ask and listen

How do you go about helping your colleagues who have disclosed a mental health illness or who you are worried might be suffering in silence?

Just asking someone how they are can make a huge difference. Ask the question and then take time to listen to their answer. You can show that you genuinely care about your colleagues around you by tiny gestures like making cups of tea. Kindness goes a long way.

2. Answer honestly

When you are struggling with your mental health, practice answering honestly when people ask how you are. If that seems daunting, start by telling your manager in one-to-ones, or disclosing that you need a sick day off for mental health. The more we talk about it, the less it will be stigmatised.

3. Mental health strategy

Companies should also be encouraging daily discussions about mental health. Initiatives are not enough, mental health needs to become accepted and understood by everyone in the workplace.

Many organisations are setting up mental health networks or appointing mental health representatives in the workplace, who’s job it is to talk to individuals who need support but also to encourage both conversation and understanding of mental health among all workers. Find out whether your company has one and if they don’t, suggest setting one up.

4. Role models

A powerful way to normalise attitudes towards mental health at work is to have senior leaders speak about their experiences of it, to set an example to the rest of the workforce that it is ok not to be ok, and it’s ok to talk about it.

According to the Accountancy Age survey, almost three quarters, 74%, of people said that senior managers sharing their mental health stories would significantly help them and their colleagues.

5. Management support

Building on this leadership theme, we should talk more about mental health with our managers. Managers should build all aspects of health into the catch-ups they have with their team members, to check how they are doing and offer the necessary support to people who need it. Managers must show their team members that they can talk about their mental health by bringing up the topic in an appropriate setting.

6. Start conversations

Over half, 52%, of respondents in our survey said they were either unsure or not comfortable with disclosing a mental health condition at work.

The way we change this is by talking about it, so start having conversations. Always ask colleagues how they are feeling and be attentive in case someone doesn’t wear their heart on their sleeve. Show people around you that talking about mental health is ok, and slowly we can put the topic on par with physical health.

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