Mental Health in the workplace

The Importance of Psychological Wellbeing in the Workplace

What is mental health?

Mental health. An expression that is used every day, and not surprisingly very commonly misunderstood. The month of April celebrates spending time in the garden. So let’s spend
some time on the garden, which is our mind, and maybe some time in the garden to relax our mind.

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

People have tried to explain the difference by talking about a continuum where mental health is at one end of the spectrum

– represented by feeling good and functioning well – while mental health conditions (or mental illness) are at the other
– represented by symptoms that affect people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour.

Research shows that high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships, and with improved mental health and life expectancy. In contrast, mental health conditions can cause distress, impact on day-to-day functioning and relationships, and are associated with poor physical health and premature death from suicide.

It’s imperative to remember that mental health is complex.
Mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationship – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

How do you identify mental ill health in individuals?

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Physical (panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing,
    restlessness, feeling tense, wound up and edgy),
  • Psychological (excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing or obsessive thinking)
  • Behavioural (avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life)

Symptoms of depression include:

More than two weeks, of feeling sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities and experiencing several of the signs and symptoms across at least three of the following categories:     

  • Behaviour not going out anymore, not getting things done at work/school, withdrawing from close family and friends, relying on alcohol and sedatives, not doing usual enjoyable activities and unable to concentrate.
  • Feelings overwhelmed, guilty, irritable, frustrated, lacking in confidence, unhappy, indecisive, disappointed, miserable, sad.
  • Thoughts ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s my fault’, ‘nothing good ever happens to me’, ‘I’m worthless’, ‘Life’s not worth living’ and ‘People would be better off without me.
  • Physical tired all the time, sick and run down, headaches and muscle pains, churning gut, sleep problems, loss or change of appetite, significant weight loss or gain.

Symptoms of mood disorders include:

It involves persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder and cyclothymic disorder

Symptoms of psychotic disorders include:

Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucination (the experience of images or sounds that are not real, e.g. hearing voices), and delusions (which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary). An example of a psychotic order is schizophrenia.

Symptoms of eating disorders include:

Extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviours involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders

How do you manage it?

According to current statistics, 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem during their lifetime and many more will see friends or family members affected. This indicates that people in your workplace are likely to have a mental health problem and it’s important to ensure that they feel like they are supported in the workplace.
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based intervention program designed to enhance the emotional, mental and general psychological wellbeing of all employees and includes services for immediate family members. The EAP provides your employees and managers access to counselling services by phone, online or face-to-face, enabling your employees to receive confidential and counselling support wherever they are based. Some of the issues employees can contact EAP include:

  • work pressure issues
  • emotional stress, anxiety, conflict, tension and depression
  • separation, divorce or relationship difficulties, child and family issues
  • personal trauma
  • grief and bereavement
  • health and lifestyle issues (including drugs, alcohol and gambling)
  • financial and legal referral

Over the last few years, employers have been using creative methods to encourage their employees to manage their own mental health. Some Examples include:

  • Encourage openness about mental health.
  • Discuss methods for managing stress and boosting self-esteem such as participating in gardening. Working in nature releases happy hormones and lowers the level of cortisol (a stress hormone).
  • Educate your employees on mental health, mental illness and identifying risk factors.

It’s imperative to do your best to create a mentally healthy workplace that is positive and productive, as this allows you to get the best out of your people. Businesses that actively promote good mental health attract and retain top talent  because they’re great places to work. By supporting people with mental health conditions and encouraging openness, they create workplace cultures that are diverse and inclusive.