If we choose to look for some positives to take from the global pandemic, one contender is the trend of raising mental health awareness. A considerable number of people have found the last year tough. Children have been separated from their friends. They’ve had to continue their education remotely, which involved moving many of the fun bits from school like lunchtime and playtime. Teenagers have been in a repeated zone of flux when these years rely on the social buffering of peers to support them emotionally. It’s been hard.
The organisations ahead of the curve with mental health awareness
There were and continue to be organisations ahead of the curve when it comes to mental health awareness. But we don’t think it is always the organisations who shout the loudest about having particular training programmes in place. There is a big difference between having some mental health first aiders and having a culture that supports mental well-being. Too often, we hear of things being professed publicly but only being skin deep.
The benefits of mental health awareness
We would go as far as to challenge the benefits of raising awareness if there isn’t adequate follow-through. But of course, there are some benefits to awareness. If you have mental health awareness, you might:
- Spot when someone needs help
- Be less likely to do unhelpful things
- Be less likely to discriminate
- Invest in a more mentally healthy culture
You’ll notice we say ‘you might’ because there are no guarantees that raising awareness will lead to productive action.
Mental health awareness challenges
One organisation we consulted with in this space was concerned. They had done “mental health awareness”. Managers were encouraging their people to speak openly about mental health challenges. To share if they were depressed or anxious. Senior role models were speaking out about their experiences with mental health challenges. But the managers had a new problem. They didn’t know what to do when people confided in them that they had been feeling very low.
As is said in ‘How to Support your Employees’ Well-Being’ Managers are not psychologists, yet, as the demands of work and life continue to merge, managers need to recognise that their employees may be struggling with stress, work-life-balance, burnout, fears about the health and welfare of their families and more. They also desperately need evidence-based tools to support employee’s well-being.
Managers have genuine questions.
- ‘How do I balance the need to get the job done with the need to reduce pressure on people who are struggling?’
- ‘What is the best way to support someone with a diagnosed mental health condition?’
- ‘What should I say if someone confides in me that they are suicidal?’
- ‘How can I tell if someone is not okay?’
There aren’t template answers to these questions. What will be most helpful will be context-dependent. However, some guiding principles can be helpful to be aware of.
- Be honest and open when you’re not sure
- Have a mindset of getting alongside someone to figure things out together
- Acknowledge someone’s vulnerability in opening up and sharing something with you…it might be a sign they trust you
- Listen and care
There have been some wonderful stories shared where people have felt supported by others. Sometimes when we ask people what we might be able to do that is helpful, they will know. Quite often though people aren’t in a place to mentally solve challenges. They don’t know how you can help.
When mental health awareness is aligned
Everything is easier if the currents are all flowing in the same direction. Some organisations are highly effective at delivering on business objectives and creating a culture that genuinely cares for its people. Lots of different areas of research suggest these organisations will be the ones that survive. Consider the best places you’ve worked. Might they include where you felt that your manager wanted the best for you? Where you could trust senior management to make decisions that didn’t mean everyone had to put in silly hours? Or where people would work collaboratively to reduce your workload for when you returned if you had a period of sick leave?
Psychological safety is key to creating a healthy workforce
Again, this has to be genuine psychological safety. Paying lip service to buzz concepts is quickly identified and backfires. People with any people skills can read managers and determine if they are truly trustworthy. A culture that is safe for people means accepting people get sick. People will not be 100% productive all the time. How does your company view people who aren’t able to contribute what they once did? Or what others do? The underlying answers to these types of questions will determine how safe it is for people to raise mental health challenges.
Mental health awareness next steps
Our LinkedIn learning course ‘Supporting your Mental Health While Working from Home’ has been a testament to just how important people are realising their mental health is. Tens of thousands of people have watched these videos and shared how mental health has challenged them over the last year. Tackling mental well-being will always require everyone to pull in the same direction. A manager can be the most informed, proactive, supportive, and best role model in the world. It won’t be a tremendous amount of use though, unless individuals are also trying to help themselves. Vice versa is also true.