Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

The conversations we don't want to have but need to have

Razan Abdelgadir

13 May 2021

by Razan Abdelgadir

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as part of this, our Inclusion and Engagement Partner, Razan Abdelgadir, shines a light on the importance of mental health and some of the practical actions we can all take to drive the important and necessary conversations about mental health both at home and in the workplace.

What is Mental Health Awareness Week?

Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), the UK’s leading charity for mental health. This year’s theme is nature, and the event is an opportunity for us all to raise awareness and reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

We are beginning to see a shift in our perception because of the readily available access to information, support, and the catalyst of social media. However, to truly see change, we must become more educated and get comfortable with ‘being uncomfortable’ to start the conversations that need to, and must, happen around mental health.

Why is mental health important?

Poor mental health is becoming more and more prominent, especially in the workplace. Like physical health, we must prioritise and work proactively to maintain our mental health in our personal and professional lives.

The Mental Health Foundation states that mental health problems are a growing public health concern (1) and are the leading cause of sickness absence (2).

It is so important that we understand that mental health affects everyone in different ways. It can be impacted and fluctuate through change, life events, and often when we least expect it. Having awareness will allow us to become more in tune with our emotions and will help us to learn how we can positively impact and support our own mental health and others.

What are some of your tips on how to maintain good mental health?

Although mental health is invisible, there are many proactive steps you can take to maintain, support, and promote good mental health and well-being, both in your personal and professional life.

The last 12 months have seen many of us forced to work from home and have resulted in blurred lines between home and work, often impacting our work-life balance.

It's important we keep the two separate, and as some of us continue to work from home, others will be returning to the office, so we must learn how to prioritise our mental health in our daily lives. The key is to find out what works for you and remove anything that could negatively impact it.

Here are some of my tips:

1. Maintain a good diet

Physical and mental health are closely linked. Having a nutritional and well-balanced diet will not only help you stay healthy but is proven to enhance cognitive ability.

It's also important to remember that your diet isn't just what you eat. It's everything you consume; what you watch, read, and who you choose to spend your time with.

2. Connect with nature

Fitting with this year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme, nature is paramount to good mental health and well-being. Immersing yourself in nature or the great outdoors can help you to disconnect, refocus, and boost endorphins.

The pandemic has only further highlighted the importance of nature and that many have no or limited access to outside space so, whether it's a countryside walk with friends, a stroll to the city park, or a run alongside the local canal/river, get out in the fresh air and connect with nature.

3. Exercise everyday

Adding even just 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine will increase endorphins and has been proven to be one of the most transformative ways to impact your mind and mood positively.

I make sure that I take my extended lunch break every day to exercise as this forces me to have time away from my screen, breaks up the day, and provides me with more energy and focus for the afternoon.

Here is a link to Wendy Suzuki presenting four ways exercise can help you now and in the future: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHY0FxzoKZE

4. Take time out for yourself

Protect your time and prioritise what makes you happy and the things that are good for your mental health, even if this means you end up letting people down.

Balance in life is vital – something I have learnt over the last few years. You and your mental health are far more important than people's opinions. Whether you decide to stay in, go out, go shopping, have an evening of self-care, watch a film, or meet up with friends, do the things that make you happy; I often find having 'me days' helps me to switch off and connect with how I’m really feeling.

5. Start the conversation

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and start the conversation. Opening up to a family member, friend, colleague, or even a therapist can help you to rationalise your feelings and get you the support you need. You don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis, preventive measures to maintain positive mental health are better.

How can employers support their employees with mental health and well-being?

Organisations need to take the necessary steps to create an inclusive environment for all and eradicate the judgement that still exists around mental health.

Here are 5 ways employers can support their employees:

1.Take practical action

Mental health awareness needs to be underpinned by practical action. Your employees need to know you take their mental health and well-being seriously and how and where they can get the support they need; simply communicating what support is available can have a huge impact.

2. Ask people what they need

Have the confidence to ask your people what they need and listen to them. Doing so will help you provide them with a clear support structure. If you haven't got the knowledge or resource internally, work with an external partner who has the expertise to support your people.

Seek feedback from your employees to ensure you are tackling the key issues within your business.

3. Train your leaders

Organisations must prioritise educating and upskilling people managers, ensuring they have the knowledge, support, and confidence to normalise and undertake mental health conversations in the workplace.

4. Facilitate workplace adjustments

There are many workplace adjustments that can be made to help manage mental health at work; many of which are free. These adjustments are the second step, the first step is identifying what you are trying to impact.

Here are some examples of workplace adjustments:

·       Where someone sits in the office. For example, a quiet area or a fixed desk rather than the inconsistency of hot desking.

·       Having different working patterns

·       Allowing flexibility

·       Giving all people managers information on where they can signpost their teams

5. Start the conversation

One of the most important things you can do is start the conversation; be open and honest with your people, and let them know you are there to support them. I think part of creating an inclusive environment is for us all to be ourselves and feel comfortable to seek support without feeling judged, and this comes with cultural change.

To truly see this change, we need to move away from stereotypes and seeing mental illness as a weakness. Start by having the conversation and asking your people “how can we/ I support you?”

What is Oliver James doing to support their employees?

As a business we recognise and celebrate our differences and the importance of being flexible and agile to create an environment that not only fosters inclusivity but provides everyone with an equal opportunity to succeed.

As part of our DE&I strategy, we are focusing this quarter on mental health, ensuring we are listening, learning, and improving in our understanding and knowledge of mental health and the support we can provide to our employees and people managers, as well as how as a business we can normalise the conversations surrounding mental health.

We have partnered with subject matter experts Arthur Ellis and the Business Disability Forum to ensure we provide our people with the tools and support they need and have introduced a number of initiatives to ensure we are continually adapting and supporting our people:

·       Trained regional mental health first aid champions

·       Extended lunch breaks to support wellness

·       Monthly Wellness Wednesday sessions on topics such as sleep recovery and stress management

·       Education sessions with our partners Arthur Ellis and the Business Disability Forum

I think we are seeing a huge cultural shift in mental health. People are becoming more educated and informed and we are slowly moving in the right direction where mental health is becoming more prominent in businesses priorities however, there is so much more to be done to increase awareness and encourage the much needed open communication.

References

(1) Mental Health Foundation ((C) 2021) Mental health statistics: UK and worldwide. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-uk-and-worldwide (Accessed 11 May 2021)

(2) Mental Health Foundation ((C) 2021) Mental health in the workplace. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mental-health-workplace (Accessed 11 May 2021)