Talking about mental health in the workplace

Discussing mental health can still be taboo in the workplace. The human cost is well-documented, but there is also a strong business case for changing this – a recent report from the Business in the Community (BITC) Workwell group suggests that this is having a detrimental effect on the productivity of UK businesses.

Figures from the report suggest that 15.2million days of sickness absence in 2013 were caused by mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or depression. This figure was 11.8 million in 2010, and the dramatic increase is a worrying rise.

It also poses a question:  if one in six employees are experiencing difficulty with their mental health, why is it that many businesses do not have in place plans to ensure the mental wellbeing of their employees?

Louise Aston from the the Workwell campaign called this a result of the ‘culture of silence’ in this Guardian article. But how can we break down this culture?

Thankfully, the BITC group have been taking positive action: a list of the great and good have taken the Time to Change pledge  including American Express, BaxterStorey, BT; Bupa, BITC, Friends Life, Mars; National Grid, Procter & Gamble, Right Management, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Santander

This move towards businesses recognising the need to address mental health as a serious concern suggest that we can perhaps be hopeful for a future where mental health is no longer such an unspeakable topic. And with people such as Ruby Wax calling for those who are experiencing poor mental health to speak out – we can perhaps look forward this taboo in the workplace is finally broken down.

International Day of Happiness

At 11.02am today the spring equinox will occur marking the start of spring. Spring is often a time for celebration and happiness as the days get longer, the weather gets nicer (let’s ignore the snow for now!) and everywhere you look little lambs are frolicking in the fields.

happinessIt’s only fitting then that the UN will be celebrating another first on 20th March 2013 – International Day of Happiness. Today the UN recognises that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”

In July 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/281 which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year on 20 March. The creation of the International Day of Happiness followed on from the first ever United Nations  conference on Happiness and Wellbeing and an earlier UN resolution calling for member states to place a greater focus on the happiness of their citizens.

Many governments are now moving towards measuring national prosperity beyond economic factors to include new elements such as happiness and wellbeing. Indeed, David Cameron stated that Britain will “start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving, not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life,”

For a long time research in the field of mental health has focused primarily on mental ill-health rather than the full spectrum of mental wellbeing. However, the growth of positive psychology in the late 20th century has given rise to the importance of giving attention to our positive thoughts, feelings and actions, as opposed to focusing on negative thoughts or actions. By reminding ourselves what went well instead of what went wrong, positive psychologists believe we can build a buffer against unhappiness, making us better able to take life’s knocks when they occur. Having a greater insight into what makes us happy in the first place can lead to practical actions to make us happier.

One of the founders of positive psychology, Martin Seligman summarizes human happiness:

When we have…

   Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths etc… )

   Engagement (the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity)

   Relationships (social ties are extremely reliable indicator of happiness)

  Meaning (a perceived pursuit or belonging to something bigger)

  Accomplishments (having recognised, concrete goals)

Do you agree with Martin Seligman? Join the discussion on twitter with #happyday and share what makes you happy.

Give a thought to your mental wellbeing this St Patrick’s Day

This weekend pubs in Edinburgh will be packed for two reasons. Many will be celebrating or commiserating the end of the six nations but many more will be celebrating in the name of St Patrick – Ireland’s patron saint.

There is something about St Patrick’s Day that has captured the hearts of people far from the shores of the Emerald Isle. With its growing popularity St Patrick’s Day has become synonymous with drinking large amounts of alcohol. And it’s fair to say that we like our alcohol in Britain. A 2005 report published by WHO found that the UK has the 15th highest consumption of alcohol in the world (Ireland was 13th).

St Patricks Day Thirst

 

We all know that binge drinking is bad for us. But how aware are we of the drinks we rack up throughout the week? A bottle of wine with dinner, a pint after work or even a nightcap doesn’t seem like a lot but it can all add up with many people drinking far more than they realise.

Government guidelines recommend that women shouldn’t drink more than 2-3 units a day and men, 3-4 units and we should also be aiming to have at least TWO alcohol-free days a week.

If you drink responsibly and stick to the sensible drinking guidelines, you can have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing, both in the short and the long-term. Some of the benefits are obvious when you look in the mirror; others are about feeling happier, healthier and having more energy.

You don’t have to be an alcoholic or dependence on alcohol for it to effective your physical and mental health. Many successful, high-achieving business men and women often use alcohol as a way to unwind and relax after a stressful day at the office. Overtime alcohol can become associated with relaxation and an unhelpful coping strategy develops to help manage everyday anxiety and stress. Research has found that anxiety and depression are more common in heavy drinkers and heavy drinking is more common in those with anxiety and depression.

So why not use this St Patrick’s Day to examine your relationship with booze and give a thought to your mental health.

If you feel that you use alcohol to help cope with anxiety and stress we can help. Get in touch with resolve on 0131 718 6003 or email support@resolvescotland.org.uk.

working from home

The recent publication of an internal memo from Yahoo has sparked renewed controversy over the issue of working from home. From June this year Yahoo employees will be banned from working from home and have to come into the office daily.

Employers and employees are divided over the issue of home working – some believe that working from home is the future of business, while others consider it to be damaging to productivity. Wording from the Yahoo memo would suggest that they side with the latter, stating, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”.

Meanwhile, the majority of businesses are working to increase flexibility for employees and working from home is encouraged in many countries to help with the work/life balance and support families. Whatever your opinion, working from home is becoming increasingly common but it does present many potential dangers to mental health.

I’m always at work

Working from home has many benefits: no commuting, home comforts and none of the distractions of the office. However, if your home is your office it can be hard to ‘switch off’ outside of office hours. A study published in the Monthly Labor Review (Profs M Noonan & J Glass: June, 2012) found that employees work between five to seven hours more at home than they would in an office setting. Workers can spend a large part of their evenings thinking about work with the temptation to ‘just finish off that project’.

If your work and home life is blurred try to have a separate space or room that you work in. Once the day is done close the door on your home office – out of sight helps greatly with out of mind.  If you’re really struggling to separate to two, think about spending a few more days in the office.

I have to prove that I’m working

This can be a common reason to work longer hours and relates to the point above. Home workers often have a fear that colleagues and managers won’t believe that they are working so they must prove it. It’s a common assurance to send emails late at night or early in the morning to prove to others that you are at your desk. However, this can have a detrimental impact on our mental health with the stress of having to prove yourself making us less productive!

If it was true that you weren’t working, it is likely that your manager would notice that deadlines aren’t met and work isn’t done. Don’t become your own worst enemy and get caught up in this cycle. Working from home requires boundaries to be set between personal and work time. Free-time is needed to recharge batteries and rest so that we can be more productive when we are at work.

geishaboy500 / Foter.com / CC BY

geishaboy500 / Foter.com / CC BY

People don’t see it as real work

Working from home can be seen as a bit of a ‘skive’ or ‘not real’ work. Family and friends can have difficulty understanding that you are working and ask for favours or pop around for a cup of tea during working hours. Young children can also find it hard to understand that you are working. This can have a negative impact on your mood if you are constantly justifying why you can’t do something or if you feel guilty for not doing something. In the long-term this could lead to resentment of others or feeling inadequate about your work.

Help others understand by setting clear boundaries and communicate with them so that everyone is clear of the rules when you’re working. Ask yourself if you would answer your mobile in the office, if you wouldn’t then try not to at home. Be as consistent as possible with children so that they know the rules too.

It’s lonely

One of the biggest downsides of working from home is the possibility of feeling isolated and being disconnected from work colleagues. With a lot of communication done via email it can be easy go for long periods without actually talking to colleagues.

Overcome isolation by having real-time communication by phone or video chats and consider splitting your time between the office and home.  Staying connected to your workplace and colleagues makes you feel like a valued part of the company and increases motivation.

Changes may be underway at Yahoo but with such a wave of public backlash, both international and within Yahoo, it seems unlikely that working from home will disappear anytime soon.

Time to Change Pledge

Today resolve became one of over 30,000 companies and individuals to sign the ‘Time To Change’ pledge, which encourages everyone to stop the stigma associated with mental health.

Nine out of ten people with mental health problems have faced discrimination.

image taken from time-to-change.org.uk

image taken from time-to-change.org.uk

For UK businesses mental health is a real issue. Stress has overtaken physical health problems such as back pain, to become the number one cause of long-term sick leave (CiPD). Every person needs to do their bit to change the culture within businesses to open up discussions about mental health and the impact of poor mental health on an organisation and its employees.

Everyone has mental health.

Do your bit and sign the pledge at www.time-to-change.org.uk

January blues

My birthday is in Japarty on....nuary.

I mention this because despite it being my birthday, even I find January a rubbish month. The thrill of Christmas is gone, everyone is on a detox (no birthday drinks for me then), pay day seems like an elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and it’s dark …. all the time!  January doesn’t really fill me with positivity and it seems that I’m not alone.

The Samaritans report that more calls are made about financial worries in January than at any other time of the year as our pre-Christmas credit card bills land on the front mat with a thud.  And it’s not just money worries that are affecting people’s mood. Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive of Relate, the relationship charity, reports a 52% increase in the number of clients attending with relationship problems.

“We expect this week to be the busiest ever for Relate as people get back to work and think about their relationships following the Christmas break”

Adding to my pessimistic view of my birth month is the arrival of ‘Blue Monday’. If you’ve read any newspapers today you are likely to know what I’m talking about.  The third Monday of January is apparently the most depressing day of the year. This year Blue Monday lands on 21st January….today.  After all this is it any wonder that we all feel a little flat in January?

But how helpful is all of this doom and gloom?

As a psychologist I know that where we choose to focus our attention has an impact on our mood. If we focus on all of the negative things that are happening, then this will likely have an adverse impact on our mood. This is true for any time of the year so why pick on January?

With a little digging you are likely to find out that Blue Monday was actually invented in the mid-2000s by Sky Travel to boost holiday sales. Often cited as a ‘fact’ this label was a PR spin that isn’t based on any scientific research. Another well-known ‘fact’ about January is that it is the month with the highest suicide rate: not true. Research isn’t consistent but reports spring, summer or autumn as the peak depending on what you read.  Winter isn’t even mentioned.

It is true that people report more financial and relationship difficulties in January than other months but perhaps this is a good thing. I see it as people taking advantage of a new year to face up to problems that started long before January even began. Perhaps the ‘enough is enough’ mentality is at its strongest in January and it makes us galvanize into changing our lives for the better?

With a new year comes New Year’s resolutions and I only have one this year…… be kinder to January and in turn, it might me kinder to me.

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