Mental Health is everyone’s business

Last month we engaged with several representatives from across London’s wide field of industry, from hotels and law firms, who came together as part of Mental Health Awareness Week to hear how their companies could benefit from Maudsley Learning at Work’s approach to helping to promote good mental health in the workplace. The attendees were either from larger organisations that had buy-in from leaders that wanted to make their offices healthier places or from smaller companies that had identified some problems and didn’t know where to look for help.

The half-day Workshop considered this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of ‘Relationships’, focusing on how the interaction between an employer and an employee can enable better workplace mental health and wellbeing.

The breakfast briefing featured consultant psychiatrist Dr Jed Boardman and Ben Higgin, a Partner and Mental Health Advocate at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Dr Boardman started by looking at how much time we spend with our colleagues. “Work relationships are very important as you spend so much time with those folk at work. We are essentially social beings and we have a need to belong, we have a need for acceptance and social exchange”.

“It is these social relationships that give us a sense of who we are. This contributes in itself to a sense of wellbeing. On the other hand, relationships also contribute to people’s ill-health.

Dr Boardman shared that “Mental health is everybody’s business. People at work, including line managers and HR people, have a real job in that. What we are trying to do ultimately is create a culture that supports staff at work and encourages people to talk about their mental health problems and to not suffer those things that make jobs worse for people’s mental health.”

Ben Higgin spoke of how relationships are undergoing a huge change as boundaries are changed. New graduates face new issues, such as starting work in a new city, working from home, being transferred to a part of the world where they know no one and their support networks are in different time zones. “Our role has to change to respond to the fact that our strategies have changed. You have to think about what levels of support you have to provide. We have to make listening a part of the culture of the workplace.

“There is always going to be a tension between getting the job done and looking after somebody. I think we have to acknowledge that and I think we have to provide some guidance. You aren’t expected to be a therapist for everyone who works for you, but you are expected to achieve results. But we need to change the way we can do it. We can help you spot things that are going to be a problem and help fix them.”

The morning continued with a Workplace Mental Health Training Taster session, led by Jane Beston, Learning Director and Maggi Rose, Senior Facilitator at Maudsley Learning at Work, that explored how a workshop in a company would be tailored to suit a client’s needs. The first section considered how everyone’s mental health exists on a continuum. Mental health doesn’t mean mental illness, it means mental health! The language of descriptors have been high-jacked into popular speech, usually inappropriately. As an example, Maggi Rose asked the group to consider the word ‘neurotic’ and all the associations of the word. “The first workplace message is this: neurosis is a group of clinical presentations that are grouped under this word … and (wrongly) associated with a woman.

“We have a huge rise in male suicide and we know that women are much more likely to seek advice or help for a mental illness than men. How difficult might it be for men to present with an issue like this? This isn’t a ‘women’s disease’ – it is a group of mental health issues or illnesses that you are familiar with: anxiety, depression and OCD. In terms of stigma, these are the messages we are driving home in the workplace.”

Maggi Rose went on to talk through terms including dementia, psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, emphasising how important it is to use the language of mental illness accurately and not in an inappropriate manner.

Jane Beston, Learning Director, said, “Our mission at Maudsley Learning at Work is to reduce stigma relating to mental health in the workplace and, given that the majority of the world’s adult population spends at least a third of their life in work, it is a natural step for us to consider the nature of relationships in the workplace on mental health.

“Prioritising mental health within all aspects of working life will have a real value to individuals, performance as well as profitability. Of course organisations are concerned about investment in training, but there is a very real cost to doing nothing”

Interested in attending the next Mental Health Awareness taster session on the 17th June? Email Pratima Fransua to find out more information and to register your interest.

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