How to protect your mental health – and that of your team

Posted on February 8, 2021

Mental health

Sam Gaunt

By Sam Gaunt, head of content and delivery, hero

The landscape:

  • 300,000 jobs are lost each year due to mental ill health.
  • 676 million are affected by mental health issues worldwide.
  • 602,000 Workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety 12.8 million Working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS 2018/19*)

There are many misconceptions surrounding the topic of mental health and exactly what it means to be “strong”.  Putting strain on your mental health can be dangerous and often the symptoms and signs aren’t visible from the outside.

Absolutely anyone can suffer from a mental ill health at any point in their life; even if their social media accounts show otherwise. There are no prerequisites to suffering from mental ill health, it doesn’t just affect certain people and often even the most outwardly happy people can be fighting an invisible battle. Mental illness does not discriminate.

The best way to look at and understand mental health is as a continuum and a large part of understanding mental health for you and your team is recognising that it differs from person to person. What someone might find exceedingly difficult to cope with and manage emotionally, might feel easy for someone else.

Acknowledging the difference in everyone is a vital part of understanding mental health within yourself and your team. You can find yourself at any point of the continuum at any time, the good news is there are simple ways to support positive mental health and improve your resilience.

Having mental strength

In Mental Health First Aid training, we talk about your stress container – different people can handle varying amounts of stress, represented by different sized containers. The size of the container can depend on many different factors, but helpful coping strategies can support your stress load.

Think of a tap at the bottom of your container – every time you open the tap, it helps to let the stress out so that your container doesn’t overflow.

We believe the key to effective mental health management and indeed strength, comes from recognising the size of your container and using helpful coping mechanisms to regularly open that tap to prevent the stress from building up to an unmanageable volume.

Mental strength doesn’t have to be about the current state of your mental health – people with mental ill health can find strength to move towards a more positive place on the continuum.

6 top tips for building your own mental strength

  1. Change what you can and accept the rest. Worrying about something that can’t be changed will cause unnecessary pressure. Focus your energy on what you have the ability to change. Consider the landslide theory:
  • Big rocks– things you need to avoid (24hr news coverage, out of hour work emails)
  • Medium rocks– thoughts you need to reframe (turning negative self-talk and fixed mindset into a positive, action-orientated growth mindset)
  • Small rocks & gravel– the things we are left to cope with (homeschooling, work load, family, hobbies)
  1. Self love club. Everyone has those days where they’re not feeling quite up to it; have a bath, read a book, take a walk, go for a run – whatever helps clear your mind. It’s important to look after the people around us, but we can’t do that if we don’t look after ourselves first. Happy me, happy we!
  2. Stay active. Being physically strong and mentally strong are different things, exercising can help improve the way we feel. Regular cardio activity will increase the production of the brain’s feel-good hormones, known as endorphins which play a key role in stress relief and mood regulation. Not only that, if you find an activity you love, you often find ‘flow’ which can provide a healthy distraction to feelings of anxiety or loss of control.
  3. Re-frame the situation. Often we spend so long dwelling on what’s happening right here, right now. Instead of seeing these as issues, see them as learning opportunities that enable you to move forwards. Fixed beliefs will often hold you back from making positive change, so how we perceive something can make a huge difference to our mindset.
  4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Recognise your own abilities and understand how much you can take on without causing undue pressure. This could be in work or in life. If you’ve been asked to head up a new project but your typical workload is remaining the same, consider the impact this will have on you. While knowing what you’re capable of is important, recognising your limits is vital.
  5. Sharing is caring. You’ve probably heard the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved and mental health experts still advocate this. You’ll often find that people share similar experiences with mental health and that you aren’t alone or in the minority by any means. As well as hearing other people’s personal accounts, it can also help to hear your own thoughts spoken aloud as this can help us to understand them.

By promoting wellbeing in the workplace and creating positive working environments, it enables individuals and organisations to thrive and perform. By creating more happy hours, organisations can decrease absenteeism and be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.

To improve mental ill health in the workplace, for yourself and your team, you should look to educate staff to improve the understanding of the existing mental health challenges. An organisation that encourages an open culture of disclosure will enable staff to communicate with managers effectively and reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health. Subsequently, staff become healthier and happier and sickness rates are reduced.

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