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What does your role as mental health champion at Coast to Capital involve?

My two day Mental Health First Aid course now qualifies me to respond confidently to help someone that is experiencing a crisis in the workplace, but I am not a mental health expert by any means. This vital part of our overall health is broad, complex and very personal to the individual. Experts in the field have extensive training, qualifications and experience to provide the best possible support to people that are struggling. Expectations on my competence in this area are high but I am very happy to be a mental health champion for Coast to Capital and be on-hand to help if someone experiences a mental health crisis at work.  

Why should I care about mental health wellbeing in the workplace?

In recent years there has been stronger awareness of mental health issues at work but there has also been an increase in negative attitudes and stigma. A 2018 report by The Shaw Trust shows that half of the employers surveyed viewed employing people with mental health conditions as a ‘significant risk’ to their business. More employers are implementing formal mental health policies however a large proportion of these are in place to avoid legal action, rather than to protect and promote the wellbeing of their workforce. Businesses are starting to realise this is an important issue, however few people feel confident or comfortable discussing this openly. This needs to change. 

Why do you think this is such a taboo topic to discuss?

Mental ill health is often not taken seriously and people that are suffering are often told to “cheer up” or “get on with it”. In fact, these are serious physical conditions which many people suffer in silence with. In the modern workplace, there is a focus on productivity and pressure to perform in a dynamic, public facing manner. Many people are afraid that colleagues won’t take them seriously if they know of any mental ill health. In addition, many line managers don’t know how to raise potential issues in an appropriate way.

What warning signs should I look out for and how can I best support colleagues?

As a line manager, you spend the majority of your time interacting with your team and will know them better than anyone. Awareness of early signs of mental ill health and providing appropriate support can play a critical role in keeping your employees healthy. 

Early warning signs can manifest themselves in a range of ways. Drastic changes in characteristics such as erratic behaviour, arguments with colleagues or unplanned absences are easier to spot but some subtle signs are more difficult to identify such as working too many hours, being louder than usual or being withdrawn.

If an employee is experiencing mental ill health, ideally they need to come to you to raise this. Regular informal chats may provide neutral opportunities to talk, however if you notice an ongoing issue you may need to find a way to approach it. You will need to think carefully about where and when a conversation takes place and it is important to be empathetic, positive and supportive. It is also important to remember that not everybody will want to discuss this in the workplace.

MHFA England have a line managers guide resource on their website mhfaengland.org which gives full details on recognising the early signs of mental ill health in employees and how to approach a conversation. 

How can I start a conversation about mental health in the workplace? 

We are working hard to create a positive and encouraging working environment which supports physical and mental wellbeing to help colleagues to be flexible, adaptable and robust in the face of change. Our weekly team meeting is an opportunity for our team to talk openly about wellbeing and identify any stress points to see which members of the team are feeling more pressured than others.

I strongly recommend that at least one member of your organisation is nominated as a Mental Health First Aider and goes on the MHFA England course, this will equip you with the skills to tackle mental health and wellbeing head on. 

“Time for Change” offer resources and ideas for activities in the office. Coast to Capital recently ran a Time to Talk day where a senior colleague gave a talk on nutrition and team members were encourages to openly discuss mental health issues over a walk in the park. More information can be found at time-to-change.org.uk

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