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5 ways you can support your employees' mental health

7 min read | 17 April, 2019 By Rachael Down


Right now, 1 in 6 UK employees are fighting mental health conditions, such as stress, anxiety or depression. As a manager and a person, it's well in your interest to understand and proactively support colleagues who are struggling.

For us at Breathe, this isn't really news. We put our people first and know that, just like a singleton in search of 'the one', if you can't love yourself, you can't expect to love anyone else. So, calling all line-managers, HR consultants, specialists and CEOs; we believe that supporting mental health in the workplace starts with you.

30% of UK staff feel that they are unable to talk openly about stress to their line manager. Furthermore, 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance. We'll take the lead then.


5 ways you can support your employees' mental health in and out of the workplace:

  • Pledge to change
  • Understand your people
  • Regularly check-in
  • Mental Health toolkit
  • Lead by example


1. Pledge to change the stigma

First step is to make the most of online help and guidance, and sign up to an industry-recognised and credible support service. Charities like Time to Change and Mind provide invaluable guidance to mental health sufferers, their families and carers. These worthwhile organisations now specialise in workplace mental health training and support and are all on the same mission. We hope you will join us in challenging the workplace mental health stigma.

It makes sense. Through pledging your commitment, you're creating the foundations for a safe, stigma-free environment, where your employees understand that you believe their health and wellbeing not only matters, but comes first. By committing to take mental health disorders such as, anxiety, stress and workplace depression seriously, you'll encourage respect and improve trust from your employees. It takes a great deal of guts to speak up about mental ill-health in the office environment and an even greater bravery to ask for help. 

Hang the pledge proud and loud on a wall within the office. Better yet, put it in your entrance, or reception, so every visitor can see too. 


2. Understand your people

Great business starts on the inside and it's your people who are fundamental to everyday working and growth. The healthier your team are, the healthier the business. But can you honestly say that you can spot the signs of workplace depressions on an individual basis?

It all starts with understanding your people and team. From our personal experience, those who suffer from ill mental health typically show more emotive tendencies and when experiencing an episode may be more sensitive to comments, office atmosphere and intrusive thoughts. By creating a safe environment and taking the time to get to know your employees (this is where your HR specialist can step in), you can protect against unintentional miscommunications and potential 'chinese whispers'.

Words matter

Picture this. We'll call it the Sally scenario. Say you need to call a meeting to discuss outstanding work for a project with a third party. Your day is packed with back-to-back meetings, a conference call with one of your subcontractors and that's before you've even begun to think about collating and evaluating data for your monthly report. You send a quick and concise email to Sally that reads:

Mandy isn't happy. I need to speak to you ASAP. Meet me in meeting room 3 at 16:00 sharp. 

You think nothing of it.

Sally, who's your 1 in 6 and currently battling stress, anxiety and depression - all in the middle of a very messy divorce - didn't sleep much last night. Panic attacks and sleep apnea kept her tossing and turning for about 4 hours before she got up and rallied the kids out the house and off to school. Her mental resilience is severely depleted and she's struggling to concentrate. She opens your email. Heart racing, her palms become sweaty. You see, Sally's negative thought process interprets her manager's email all wrong. Her cognitive thinking is skewed from the lack of sleep and recent extra-curricular stress.

One of the most damaging symptoms of poor mental health is isolation and low self-esteem. Sufferers are more likely to engage in negative thought patterns such as mind-reading, internalising and catastrophizing situations that other employees wouldn't blink twice at. Think about poor Sally. Even though her manager's message wasn't cruel, she's interpreted the worst and probably devised 1001 negative scenarios. This demonstrates that it's not the message but the words and delivery that matter.

What's concerning about this is that the more a patient overthinks (or ruminates), the more their brain can trick them into thinking that they are alone. They retreat, avoid seeing friends and family and sometimes disengage from all activities that they once enjoyed. This isolation can make the condition extremely challenging to diagnose.

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3. Regularly check-in and adopt a traffic light system

Think back to Sally. Fortunately, she spoke to her HR manager on entering the company and felt comfortable enough to bring up her mental health condition. Unlike her previous employers - who belonged to the tight-lipped, suffer in silence generation - Sally's HR manager instantly put her at ease. 

"Thank you for letting me know Sally, and sorry to hear that things have been difficult for you recently. We're committed to developing our staff and my main priority is to make sure that you have the support and guidance you need to achieve your potential."

Don't underestimate the value of an impromptu check-in. For those members of your team who you suspect may struggle, or who have diagnosed conditions, agree to commit to a clear risk assessment system. This helps to quickly identify your feelings and potential stressors (hopefully before the fog settles), as well as healthy behaviours you can adopt when the going gets especially tough. 

Above all: don't let it get to a red. 

"I won't ask you to speak about this again if it makes you uncomfortable, but please know that I'm here to chat if you need. What I do ask though, is for you to promise to never let it get to a red. Think of your mental health as a set of traffic lights; there'll be the not-so-bad green days, difficult amber days and then, the destructive red days. Ring me if you're on amber and I can help you from there."


4. Mental health toolkit

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Or so they say. Aim to prevent periods of unnecessary stress by providing support before an issue arises. Create a mental health toolkit with accompanying literature and call a meeting to help your employees know the techniques, tools and coping mechanisms.

  • Employee surveys

    Start with an anonymous employee wellbeing and happiness survey. This will help benchmark current feelings and attitudes to work, as well as highlight red flags and areas that require more attention and support.
  • Room for headspace

    If your corporate space allows, provide a room or an area that encourages headspace or downtime. If not, encourage your staff to take regular breaks away from their screens. Stretch those legs, get some fresh air and be present in nature. Multiple studies show that when staff are under extreme pressure, taking time out - even during the working day can increase productivity and focus when they return. 
  • Create something

    Jigsaw puzzles, activity and adult colouring books, inspirational stories, magazines and quote-inspired to-do-lists aren't just child's play. In fact, research shows that for the majority of mental health conditions, providing a creative outlet is extremely powerful for positively influencing focus and self esteem. 
  • Mental Health First Aid training

    Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in the workplace training is a fundamental investment into the health and wellbeing of your team and company. Commit to helping your managers help your people and let the experts educate your team on how to spot the signs in the workplace, as well as tools for support. Remember to tell your team who's been trained in MHFA so they know who to turn to for extra guidance. 

    With over 65 years' experience and expertise in mental health, Mind deliver training in both and England and Wales. Make an enquiry and find out how they can help your organisation build and maintain a more mentally healthy workplace.


5. Be the leader you needed

It's likely that everyone who's been through the education system will have a favourite teacher. And, if they're lucky enough to go on to work for a company that cares about their staff as people, they're likely to have at least one key figure who leads and inspires like no other. 

Be the leader you needed when you entered the office. And take a minute to think about what that may look like.

Here's our starter for ten (or shall we say dessert as we're at the end): 

  • Listen and engage.
  • Practice prioritisation and patience.
  • Commit to regular 1:1s.
  • Ask yourself: How can I make a positive difference to the company
  • Vulnerability makes you human. Don't be afraid to share what you've learnt from testing experiences with your team, just be sure to demonstrate how perseverance and resilience helped you triumph.

Please note - just like the rest of this post - this is not an exhaustive list, moreso a spring board for how to start making positive changes.

Thanks for sticking with us and learning about how to improve mental health support for employees within your business. If you're looking for more info on mental health, organisational culture and what you can do as an employer, head over to our Culture Pledge and download the toolkit. 


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Posted on 17 April, 2019

By Rachael Down

in Mental Health

Tag Mental Health

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