Surprising mental health triggers in your workplace

25 October 2019 -

Stack of papersSometimes we think we’re unaffected by an event or experience – but MHFA England's research shows otherwise…

Guest Blogger Vicki Cockman

Research conducted by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England with 2,000 employed adults revealed that a significant number of workers are unable to determine signs and triggers of mental health ill health in colleagues. Recognising signs and symptoms is the first step in getting the support needed to recover. These can include physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, stomach upsets or sudden weight loss or gain, and differences in a person’s behaviour such as irritability, tearfulness, or a loss of concentration and confidence.

Reading the signs

Many of these are signs can be misunderstood – for some people, changes in their work or personal life, including what might be considered happy events like having children, can prove stressful and may trigger mental ill health. We also found that over two-thirds of people don’t know that a change in line manager or getting a new job could trigger a mental health issue. Ensuring we can recognise common signs and triggers of mental ill health is key to breaking stigma and, ultimately, to empowering people to access further support.

The impacting factors

Stress is a key influencing factor across a range of mental health issues. As part of Mental Health First Aid England training, we use models of stress vulnerability to help people understand how different external stressors can contribute to mental ill health. One of these models, the Stress Container, is part of our “Address Your Stress” toolkit. It’s a really powerful explanatory tool to help us all think about simple coping mechanisms we can use to manage stress protectively and proactively.

The development of mental health issues involves the interaction of many diverse biological, psychological and social factors. These include genetics, persistent stress and anxiety, poverty, poor education and social disadvantage. It can also help to think about a balance between protective factors and risk factors. The more protective factors a person has, the less likely that they will develop mental ill health, whereas more risk factors will make it more likely.

Inclusivity for all invisible illnesses

When it comes to invisible illnesses, inclusivity is all about effective communication. Employers need to be open and proactive in providing opportunities for people to disclose any and all mental health issues that they might be experiencing, whether short term, fluctuating or long term.

Research by mental health charity Mind has shown that people often don’t feeling comfortable in disclosing health issues to their employer for fear it might impact their working relationship. For this reason, it’s really important for induction processes to provide an open, stigma-free space for these discussions to happen. This can help ensure any reasonable adjustments are put in place early on so that those with invisible illnesses are properly supported from the get-go.

Cross-sector triggers

A ‘whole organisation’ approach to mental health is the best way to create an environment conducive to good mental health. When wellbeing and mental health is central to workplace culture, a strategic consideration, a training priority and backed by senior support, businesses and employees all reap the benefits.

Whilst there isn’t a one size fits all approach or a silver bullet for workplace mental health, we know the ingredients of success across different sectors. Effectively weaving wellbeing into the fabric of the workplace is about designing stress out of processes and systems, it’s about putting healthy job design first, attending to reasonable adjustments and flexible working needs, and thinking about hygiene factors like fair and equal pay.

Organisations that effectively lay the groundwork for a mentally healthy workplace position mental health as a boardroom issue on a par with physical health, and raise mental health awareness across the workforce to help normalise the idea of talking about mental health. And employers at the forefront of creating a culture of care ensure their people are empowered to offer and seek help, as well as taking steps to ensure support available is clear and accessible.

Mental health support in the workplace

Through our work training over 20,000 organisations in mental health skills and awareness, we see first-hand the impact that Mental Health First Aid England training has as one part of this broader framework. It ensures a listening ear and a guiding hand to further support is never more than one conversation away.

As a social enterprise, our overall vision is to improve the mental health of the nation by equipping one in ten of the adult population with the knowledge, confidence and skills to look after their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing.

Join in the conversation we’re having about mental health in the workplace – we’ve written about how to talk about depression at work, as well as how you can become a mental health first aider.

Image: Unsplash

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