Mental Health Awareness Week and the workplace

Featured article - 13 May 2022
By Michaela Gray, SCIE HR Business Partner and Mental Health First Aider

Michaela Gray, SCIE HR Business Partner and Mental Health First Aider

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and like me you’ve probably seen organisations promoting awareness on their social media channels and encouraging conversations using various hashtags. Since working from home has become more commonplace, there’s also been a rise in organisations promoting wellbeing initiatives and encouraging employees to do things like take time for a walk or take up yoga. Like me, you may also have noticed an increasing pushback against these kinds of messages.

For me there are two issues here: the difference between mental health and wellbeing, and the different roles for an employer in each. I think wellbeing is more about maintaining a good mental health baseline. Evidence shows that practicing things like mindfulness, exercise and good sleep hygiene will help us maintain that baseline. Work is a big part of our lives, and employers can contribute to our wellbeing in a number of ways, for instance:

  • Annual leave
  • Paid sick leave
  • Flexible working
  • Regular screen breaks
  • Encouraging and modelling a life work balance
  • Wellbeing awareness training and resources
  • A culture where people feel comfortable talking about their wellbeing and mental health.

However, if you’re really struggling or at a crisis point with your mental health, wellbeing tips are ultimately a plaster on a broken leg. In this context, employers talking about the benefits of long baths and yoga can risk being seen as out of touch at best and insulting at worst.

There are however still some ways employers can support employees having a mental health crisis:

  • Trained Mental Health First Aiders who can listen and signpost to help
  • Employee Assistance Programme
  • Occupational Health
  • Keeping in touch calls
  • Return to work and wellness action plans.

It’s great to see so many employers recognising the importance of wellbeing and taking steps to try and destigmatise mental health issues, and it’s important to continue having those conversations – but, having both struggled with my own mental health in the past and having led on mental health and wellbeing initiatives at SCIE, we as employers also need to remember to be mindful of our messaging and limitations, and open to feedback from colleagues when we don’t get it right. Together we can support and uplift each other.

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