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The rise and celebration of Mental Health Awareness at work

Last week the UK celebrated Mental Health Awareness week – an opportunity for employers, groups and organisations across the country to talk mental health and surrounding issues. Sounds simple, but it hasn’t always been this way – traditionally in the workplace employers are well versed in the dos and don’t surrounding physical illness. The enigma of mental health is one that has not always been seen, understood, diagnosed and has proved much more difficult to get a grasp on.

However thankfully more than ever, today mental health has a comforting prominence in our everyday lives, taking a seat at work, school, in families, even prime time on our favourite soaps. Whether it’s affected you directly or not, mental health is shedding its stigma and being welcomed as a part of daily dialogue for everyday folk due in part, to weeks exactly like this to keep the conversation in our consciousness. This year, in its sixteenth edition, the annual celebration focused on the importance of relationships – romantic, family, friends – the health of our relationships with those close us undoubtedly plays a major part in overall health, wellbeing and happiness.

It’s very easy to get lost in the abstract nature of mental illness, yet the facts surrounding it are very sobering. It is estimated since 2009 that the number of working days lost to ‘stress depression and anxiety’ has increased by 24 per cent. With the cost to employers at an estimated £26 billion each year for mental health problems amongst staff, this issue is undeniable prescient in the business world.

But, as an employer, where to begin? This handy downloadable toolkit from Business In The Community is a great starting point for anyone looking to start a conversation surrounding mental health in the workplace. It estimates up to one in six employees are currently experience mental health problems and highlights the important link between levels of mental well-being and staff performance. Its here that the value of ‘relationships’ in the workplace comes into play – being comfortable and open, able to communicate, discuss and vocalise and share concerns and struggles is a tough dynamic in employer/employee relationships. Resistance to showing weakness to your superiors. a common trait, further frustrates one’s ability to ask for help when they need it.

Sure as the saying goes it’s good to talk, but we’ve seemingly still got a long way to go in shedding the stigma of silence surrounding mental health issues. On their amazingly insightful website, Mind have a great section about that very issue – starting the conversation in the workplace. More than one in five polled by the charity had called in sick to work as a by-product of workplace stress: i.e. masking a mental challenge with a simplified physical one in order to recover.

Employees too need to be aware of their own responsibility to keep their mental health in check. Addressing workloads, making constant assessments of work/life balance and taking time away from work is as important as working hard when you’re there. In the virtual office space for example, making time for face to face human interaction amongst a sea of emails and the harsh realities of home working is crucial to keep perspective.

Taking value in those relationships, through time out, physical face-to-face interaction and appropriate measures to communicate and interact on a more personable level should be key to-do’s for any employer in creating a more open forum for discussing issues. Here at PA Business Support for example, we treat our VA’s every quarter to an informal lunch and place a particular focus on face-to-face interaction with our team members and clients alike. The virtual office is far too readily just that – virtual – and it’s important not to become reliant on virtual tolls as the easiest way to communicate. Celebrating successes is also important – take the newly launched ‘VA of the month’ for example, which gives recognition for the team and a chance to celebrate achievements and individual success stories.

The message from this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is that good relationships help us live longer. The weeks culminated in a call to action in everyone to make a ‘relationship resolution’. To assess how much time we actively commit to building and maintaining good relationships, and to ask whether we can invest more in being present with and listening to friends, family and colleagues.

Founders of PA Business Support Sophie and Sabina build this open door policy and ‘time out but time together’ ethos into the team, and on a personal level value making time for individual escape to refocus the mind for work when appropriate. Pilates, yoga, family time – whatever it is that gives an escape to the mind as well as the body. So what will your relationship resolution be? Make it achievable, make a difference and make time for mental health in your workplace.

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