10 October marks the annual observation of World Mental Health Day – a day that raises awareness of mental wellness and advocates against social stigma. The event serves as a reminder to organisations to recognise and support their employees as people first.
World Mental Health Day is a multifaceted initiative that applies to us all. It's an opportunity to promote and prioritise good mental health, to educate ourselves on mental health challenges, and to understand how mental health affects us and those around us.
Not only that, but World Mental Health Day also gives us a chance to consider how we approach mental health in the workplace. What can organisations be doing to support the mental wellbeing of their employees, and why does it matter?
With over 1 in 6 people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, employee mental wellbeing is very much an organisation’s responsibility. This year’s World Mental Health Day theme, ‘make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’, sends the right message to businesses that employee wellbeing should be high up on the agenda.
What is mental health?
Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It considers the wellness of how we think and how we regulate our feelings. Not to be confused with ‘mental illness’, mental health is something we all have, just like our physical health.
It’s important to understand that mental health is very much a spectrum. We can experience great mental health, ‘so-so’ mental health, or perhaps poor mental health or illness. Degrees of mental health can also mean different things to different people and present itself in different ways.
We should approach our mental health with the same energy as our physical health. This principle (called ‘parity of esteem’) teaches us that our mental health is a priority, and we should be proactive in preserving it. For example, we might drink lots of water as a way of staying physically healthy and to prevent thirst, and the same self-care approach should apply when it comes to our mental health.
As well as understanding mental wellbeing, we must also be aware of what could negatively impact our mental health. Mental health struggles can be brought on by a wide range of life events and macroenvironmental factors and, importantly, they can affect anyone. For instance, you might experience periods of poor mental health following a bereavement, a job loss, or a traumatic event. Poor mental health can also stem from stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Similarly, significant world events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the cost-of-living crisis, can also create mental health challenges or exacerbate existing ones. In fact, the pandemic alone triggered a 25% increase in global prevalence of anxiety and depression, up from 970 million people in 2019.
Who might be affected by poor mental health?
It’s critical to understand that poor mental health can affect absolutely anyone. According to the WHO, mental health disorders are common in all countries and affect males and females almost equally (47.6% and 52.4% respectively). Thinking back to the causes, these are also universal life events that many of us will face at some point. This reinforces the fact that poor mental health doesn’t discriminate.
Knowing it can happen to anybody should be fuel to breaking down the stigma, sharing our experiences, and promoting the pursuit of good mental health.
Why is mental health an organisational problem?
When it comes to mental health, work can be a double-edged sword. Some people find that work can improve their mental health or act as a helpful distraction, but for others, it can create or exacerbate mental health problems.
People struggling with mental health at work might find it difficult to work productively or confidently. They may also lose sense of purpose and enjoyment when doing their job.
From a business perspective, low employee mental health can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Every year, 12 billion working days are lost to depression and anxiety alone, and the same two conditions cost the global economy US$1 trillion every year from reduced productivity. Looking at that from the opposite angle, companies clearly benefit from having mentally healthy and happy workforces.
There’s also a responsibility angle to mental health in the workplace. If, in our daily lives, we must look after the mental health of ourselves and our peers, then organisations need to create environments that enable and encourage that.
What should organisations do?
Protecting employee mental health starts with embedding health and wellbeing into the company culture. Through initiatives such as Employee Benefits Programmes, organisations can promote the importance of good mental health and preventative self-care, raise awareness of mental health challenges, and educate employees on how those challenges affect them and those around them.
Organisations can also teach employees to champion good mental wellbeing, to be mindful of others, and to support those who are struggling. Management training is particularly important; managers should be equipped to promote good mental health among team members, have an open-door policy, and look out for signs of low or declining mental health.
Beyond that, there is a wide range of tools and services that organisations can offer to protect employee mental health. For example, at Westcon-Comstor, our employees have access to support services, information, and trainings that promote good mental health or can support them if they’re struggling. We also foster an environment that allows employees to do ‘good mental health activities’, such as yoga and exercise.
Creating safe spaces to talk about mental health is also key to creating a wellbeing-driven culture. At Westcon-Comstor, we have a Health and Wellbeing ‘Employee Resource Group’, which brings people together to share their experiences. By talking about mental health and sharing our stories – the good and bad – we are actively tackling the stigma and take it as an opportunity to influence our organisation’s mental health approach.
Of course, not everybody wants to discuss their mental health with their colleagues. We cater to this by offering benefits that allow employees to handle their mental health privately. For example, our employees have access to private healthcare, which they can use to organise mental health consultations and beyond.
What can I do?
There are lots of activities you can build into your daily routine to help protect your mental health. Popular examples include:
- Doing some exercise: Exercise releases feel-good hormones, helps you sleep better, and can relieve stress
- Eating healthily: A healthy, balanced diet can fend off mood fluctuations and help your brain function better
- Connecting with people: Protecting your mental health often comes back to social interactions. However, it’s not just about confiding in others. It’s also about spending time with loved ones, making new friends, and feeling part of a community or circle
Of course, we must remember to also be mindful of the mental health of our peers. We all have a responsibility to check in with each other, champion the pursuit of good mental health amongst each other, and support each other not just on World Mental Health Day, but all year round.