Mental Health Awareness: 10 ways to tackle mental ill health in work

Mental Health Awareness Week is spurring employers to do more to tackle mental health issues at work after studies warned of lost productivity and a reluctance to discuss problems.

Despite their good intentions, however, many employers still struggle with what to do to support employees’ mental health issues in the workplace.

We spoke to Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, to ask what were the active steps employers could take towards supporting the wellbeing of all of their staff.

Mark said: “We see many people regretting the fact that they did not seek help with their mental ill health sooner. Most don’t want to admit to having a problem as they are concerned about how colleagues would receive this and fearful it could affect their careers prospects. We want to help change this.

“Our research has shown that people who have experienced mental ill health want employers to offer free screening for depression in the workplace. If this were widely available, we might see more people seeking and receiving support for their mental health sooner – before reaching crisis point.

“Employers who adopt this approach would also show employees that their psychological wellbeing really matters – something that should, in turn, help to break down the stigma of mental ill health at work.”

Mental Health self-help tips

According to Dr Mark Winwood, if you’re experiencing stress in the workplace, there are steps you can take to help address it:  

  1. Basic wellness checks – should you be doing more exercise, improving your diet, or getting more sleep? Fairly simple changes in these three areas can improve your outlook and ability to cope with stressful situations at work 
  2. Challenge your thinking – if you find yourself taking a negative perspective on work issues could there be a more balanced or alternative way of looking at things? Write down what’s troubling you and challenge it. Take some time to focus on the positive– what are your strengths and what have you achieved? 
  3. Make lists and plan workloads – by ticking off  jobs on your list, you’ll start to recognise your accomplishments and feel more in control 
  4. Find time to relax – reset your mind, listen to your favourite music or take a walk for air. Whether it’s at home or on your lunch break, make time for you. Switching off will also improve your sleep health, allowing you to tackle tasks with a fresh head 
  5. Be fair on yourself – think about what you have the power to change in your current circumstances and prioritise these things, rather than worrying about areas you can’t control. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ It’s probably not as bad as you imagine 
  6. Try not to avoid – whether it’s faking a sick day or putting something off, ignoring the source of your stress won’t make it disappear and may only add to your to-do list 
  7. Identify the real problem – are you afraid of failing? Sometimes we’re our own worst critics.  Think about what you’d say to a friend or a colleague in the same situation. Would you be as hard on them as you are on yourself? 
  8. Protect your work-life balance – don’t abandon social plans for the sake of working late. Overtime can lead to diminishing returns on productivity. Making time to catch up with friends and family will boost your mood and take your mind off work pressures 
  9. Avoid unhealthy habits – excessive food or drink consumption may offer temporary relief, but it won’t help in the long run. Explore good habits that can boost your mood and energy levels. Exercise releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine which gives you a healthy high 
  10. Don’t bottle it up – it’s helpful to share your concerns, so speak to your manager or a supportive colleague.  A problem shared is a problem halved 

>See also: Lawyers warn ‘one size fits all’ fix is not an elixir for workplace stress