According to Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) England 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer.
Talking about mental health in the workplace helps to normalise these conversations and break down the stigma around mental health issues. It is reported that the UK has a 15 million sick days related to mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety each year. According to mental health charity, Mind, 93% of workers who have taken stress-related leave have lied to their boss about the reason behind their absence.
At Pelican, we continue to promote “opening up” conversations among colleagues including line managers and the Senior Leadership Team as part of our overall health and wellbeing programme. Here our MHFA team share some ideas from Mind, a mental health charity in England and Wales, on how to talk about mental health in your workplace.
Ten conversation tips
1. Choose an appropriate place.
Somewhere private and quiet where the person feels comfortable and equal. Possibly a neutral space outside of the workplace.
2. Encourage people to talk.
People can find it difficult to talk about their mental health but it helps to have an open culture where conversations about mental health are routine and normalised. Ask simple, open and non-judgemental questions and let people explain in their own words how their mental health problem manifests.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
Don’t try to guess what symptoms an employee might have and how these might affect their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their mental health and perform their role to a high standard but may require support measures when experiencing a difficult period
4. Listen to people and respond flexibly.
Everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different so treat people as individuals and focus on the person, not the problem.
5. Be honest and clear.
If there are specific grounds for concern, like high absence levels or impaired performance, it’s important to address these at an early stage.
6. Ensure confidentiality.
People need to be reassured of confidentiality. It’s sensitive information and should be shared with as few people as possible. Discuss with the individual what information they would like shared and with whom.
7. Develop an action plan.
Work with your employee to develop an individual action plan which identifies the signs of their mental health problem, triggers for stress, the possible impact on their work, who to contact in a crisis, and what support people need (see next section). The plan should include an agreed time to review the support measures to see if they’re working.
8. Encourage people to seek advice and support.
People should speak to their GP about available support from the NHS such as talking therapy. The Mind Infoline can signpost people on to advice and support.
9. Seek advice and support yourself.
The Mind Infoline and local Minds can provide information to employers too. Occupational Health (if you have it) can provide tailored advice to support both employers and employees.
10. Reassure people.
People may not always be ready to talk straight away so it’s important you outline what support is available, tell them your door is always open and let them know you’ll make sure they get the support they need.