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Week beginning 14th May 2018 was Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, opening up discussions about the role mental health plays in our day to day lives, particularly in the workplace.

As we climb the corporate ladder, we often find ourselves needing to present a strong, unshakeable and invulnerable image. Yet we know that many of the best leaders - arguably all of the best leaders - are in possession of a high EQ. Also known as Emotional Quotient, EQ means you are able to recognise your own and other’s emotional needs. 

A large part of building rapport with your colleagues and employees is to connect on a human level, which can sometimes include asking others for support. This human connection is important for two main factors: 

1. Recognising that you are in a professional position which often comes with a large amount of stress - and how to deal with that.  

2. Connecting with colleagues and creating a support network that allows you to be a much more efficient and successful leader of the environment you’re in.

Recognising that stress factors are a reality in a high-flying career, allows you to acknowledge and practice self-care, which comes in many shapes and sizes. This could be - amongst other things - exercising, eating well, mindfulness practises or simply taking some rest. To be able to achieve your true potential, you will be far more efficient if you choose to look after yourself - this allows you to commit and focus on your work without emotional negativity, or any of life’s stresses or hang-ups that could impede your productivity.

As a rule, be sensible with who you confide in - depending on what you may be struggling with. It’s generally advisable to communicate vertically, or to your confidante, mentor or external coach. It can be lonely at the top, so ensure you are not isolated. Whoever you choose can offer you the support you may need to help you go about your day-to-day responsibilities. This allows you to be more successful in your work, putting more energy in and remaining authentic without burning out or jeopardising your own health or career.

We are all at our best when we are happy, and this is a key factor in ensuring a healthy environment in your workplace. If you’re in the boardroom and have the platform to do so, encourage airtime for ideas of how to nurture and care for your staff whilst also reviewing their productivity and success rates. The happier you and they are, the better you and they will achieve - making this a worthwhile investment. It’s good business sense.

If things ever get particularly bad, it is incredibly important to communicate with your employer. The last thing you need on top of the challenges you are facing is a misunderstanding because of your difficulties. This misunderstanding can manifest as a perceived laissez-faire attitude to the workplace. Often these hard times can make it difficult to have your ‘head in the game’ constantly, and it may well need some work, time and patience to get back to your best self. Without someone in the organisation understanding where you are at, they can’t help you and the changes in your ability to perform as a professional may be misinterpreted. Be honest, open and candid with key stakeholders - they don’t need to know details, but keep them in the loop with how you are, what treatment you may be undergoing and how you’re managing at work. This means everyone can work on your side, getting you back to yourself and feeling better with time, and with as little disruption as possible. 

Be patient with yourself, keep going and with time you can be in a much better place - just be sure you communicate so those who care can help you get there. Drive and motivation can be hard when you’re low, but when you have the right support in place, that will be at least one weight off your shoulders.


If you’re struggling right now, there are also numerous charities you can reach out to for support: 


Update, 19 June 2018, 6.15pm

Since posting - and Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 - there has been coverage in the news discussing the impact of mental health illness in the workplace. The BBC reported that employment charity, Shaw Trust, calculated employers in Wales alone lose £292 million a year in lost work days. Discussion carried on, with a quote from Ruth Coombes saying:

"It will probably cost you more not to address the issue than it will to leave it and let it ride... it's about managers [and] business owners talking with their employees and realising that just like any other illness having a mental health problem doesn't mean that you can't work and you can't get back to work."

The Health and Safety Executive estimates 49% of sick days are down to stress, anxiety or depression. Similarly, UNISON demanded a new mental health strategy in the wake of the further statistics from the government's HSE, identifying a 7 percent rise those experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety since 2015/16. When compared against 2014/15, the increase of work-related stress actually comes in at a much larger 16 percent.

This means the rate of these mental health issues for workers in 2016/17 came in at 1,610 cases for every 100,000 workers. Whilst these figures are concerning, it is reassuring to see such issues highlighted by regulatory authorities are coming more into the public eye. This hopefully represents an important paradigm-shift in the way we think about mental health in the workplace. After all, we take care of our bodies by exercising and eating well - why wouldn't we look after our minds too?


Update, 9 October 2018, 1.30pm

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day - an opportunity for all to discuss a subject that affects every last person. Whilst each of us has a different relationship with our own mental health, and as a softer science with our comprehension constantly developing the most unchanging fact surrounding the subject is the benefit that support from others can offer.

We should all make a concerted effort to support our colleagues, friends and those around us. By being more aware of the issues that can affect both us and others, listening to each other and trying harder to be more thoughtful both in and out of the workplace.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, recently commented on employers' changing attitudes when it comes to mental health in the workplace:

"Over the last few years employers have begun to take staff wellbeing more seriously and we know that many are doing great work around mental health in the workplace. Now is the time for a step change in how we think about mental health at work.

"All employers need to make it a focus and support their staff. It’s clear from our research that when employers support their managers properly, it can make a big difference to the whole organisation. The gateway gives managers the tools they need."

The mental health charity surveyed 44,000 employees and found that poor mental health has saturated workplaces across the UK at 48% - almost half - of all people surveyed saying they've experienced a mental health problem in their current role - and of this, only half of those who have suffered with poor mental health had spoken to their employer about. It's so important that we create safe channels for employees and colleagues to communicate any mental health issues they may be suffering from - particularly as the figures given suggest that one in four workers in the UK is suffering in silence, affecting their quality of life, needing support and having an overall detrimental effect wellbeing and health.

The same research outlined only 16% of UK employers having any existing defined mental health strategy already in place, compared to a further 37% who plan to introduce one within the next 12 months (and another 26% by 2020). A Board is the key changemaker in an institution, and their strategy and agenda should drive the wellbeing and health of the workforce within the respective organisation. If mental health isn't on their radar, it will be difficult to implement any long-lasting or high impact change. By bringing the conversation of mental health into our boardrooms, we can start to challenge outdated ideas, bring our practises inline with modern wellbeing standards and - all whilst looking out for each other - actually improve the productivity and output of our businesses.