Recently YouGov released their results from a 20,000 person survey on mental health.
The results are worrying:
- 77 % of employees experience mental health problems
- 62% identify work as the contributing factor
- “Very few” individuals disclose their suffering, despite 97% of managers considering themselves approachable
- 56% of those that did disclose their mental health, said their manager took no action
In Christian May’s (CityTalk) words, “this cannot continue.”
Despite the shocking statistics, many of us struggle to know what to do with them.
If we genuinely want to address the problem effectively we need consider our responsibilities as both individuals and employers.
Stress effects our lives in many ways. Regardless of your stress levels, it’s helpful to consider these three simple steps to understand how best to respond to it. If you feel professional help is required, please visit the NHS where help is effectively signposted.
Here are three ways you can help address mental health in your business:
Step 1: Awareness
Am I stressed?
Stress can manifest in multiple ways. At work you might notice performance changes (both positive and negative); in your relationships you may withdraw or become overly aggressive and confrontational; you may witness daily life being consumed by strong, unmanageable symptoms….the list goes on (HSE 2016).
Many signs of stress are part and parcel of modern life. However in order to understand what levels of stress are healthy (or motivational) and unhealthy (or destructive) we need to be aware of where we are at.
When we are stressed we move into our “fight or flight response” through the release of hormones, such as cortisol. This hormonal concoction is designed to limit our energy supplies to enable survival and nothing else. This can be helpful for short spurts of work, pushing us to meet deadlines and go that extra mile.
However the latest neuroscience research is now showing that prolonged exposure to cortisol, such as the drip drip effect of daily stress, can be more damaging than a shock trauma, causing damage to the brain, memory, executive functioning, motor skills and our immunity response.
It is therefore of fundamental importance to ask yourself: “Am I experiencing healthy and sustainable levels of stress?”
Simple expressions to yourself or others, such as “I am constantly wired” can be helpful indications to understand your current position.
Step 2: Acceptance
So you’ve figured out you are stress and before I’ve moved on you’ve already labelled this position as negative….right?!
In order to move beyond any stress reaction or behaviour we must first accept it. This is a challenging task but one that forms the very premise of mindfulness.
To offer an example, last week I felt overwhelmed with work. Yet instead of recognising and accepting it, I started to fight it with further emotions of frustration and guilt as I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t “coping.” This layering process only made the situation more complex and energy depleting, stopping me from moving forward effectively.
So the penultimate step is to replace any internal or external judgement on the situation with: “Isn’t that interesting”. It sounds simple but I promise, non-judgemental reactions work.
Step 3: Share
A problem shared is a problem halved; yet when it comes to stress many of us find it hard to share what’s really going on.
This is predominantly for two reasons. Firstly, because when we are stressed we do not have the mindset to think that others may be able to help, as for many stress manifests as withdrawal and isolation. Secondly, we avoid sharing for fear of what people might say, especially if they are an employer, and the subsequent consequences on our relationships or career. However, in order to break the mental health cycle we need to offer light to it, so people can help.
To a degree the responsibility therefore lies with the sufferer to raise it with someone they feel comfortable with. Taking this step is important and brave and if you decide it is an employer, it is important to note that you are protected under various legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.