Mental health is everyone’s problem

It scarcely seems a year ago when we were celebrating World Mental Health Day and examining the 2016 theme of psychological first aid. Now we are returning to the subject, looking at this year’s theme of mental health in the workplace.

It’s a fitting topic for this twenty-fifth World Mental Health Day, highlighting the way in which mental health isn’t simply something which is hidden away at home, but travels with people out into the wider world; impacting on workplaces, employee and customer relationships, and the ability of people to perform everyday tasks. Think of mental health in the workplace and stress may come up as a topic but the truth is that just as the nature of work can contribute to a range of physical problems, so too can the nature of work contribute to a number of mental health issues.

Indeed, according to the organisation MHFA England, three out of five employees have experienced mental health issues in the last year because of work. It’s a shame therefore that the same organisation comments that just 24% of line managers have received any form mental health training.

So what’s the solution? NHS employers have put together some guidance which is aimed at helping NHS managers to support workplace mental well-being. The suggested approach is split into two sections, supporting staff who are experiencing mental problems and promoting a healthy approach to work.

The advice is all fairly straightforward and ties in with other best practices such as boosting work culture and improving employee engagement. It talks about promoting work-life balance, giving people control over their workloads and providing resources. As such, although the guidance is targeted towards those working in the health service, it would also be appropriate in other fields. In particular, it would also be appropriate for other health professionals who may be in danger of letting their work overwhelm their mental well-being.

Stress is a very overused word and whilst the connotation is generally negative, stress can in some instances help to push us towards achieving goals which we may not have thought possible. Nevertheless, some forms of stress can be debilitating, leading to problems with sleep, depression and even physical health problems. And stress doesn’t simply arise because of an excessive workload. Worries about finances, uncertainties around patients missing appointments, repetitive tasks which distract from core competencies; all these and more can affect mental well-being.

And the trouble is that when our mental equilibrium is out of balance it is all too easy to be locked in the problem without being able to step back and see the solution. So we brood over fluctuating appointment patterns when we could be opening our business up to online booking or sending out appointment reminders in order to cut down on no-shows. And at the end of a long day, when we should be stepping away and unwinding, the challenge of sending out invoices or dealing with day-to-day paperwork seems overwhelming; so much so that we simply don’t have the mental capacity to look for other solutions such as taking secure card payments at the time of booking or electronically filing patient records.

Mental health issues come in many forms and many guises. Some we have little control over, but there are some which we have it in our power to prevent or mitigate. Technology can help to manage the routine, to remove time pressures and to provide a measure of control over workloads. This World Mental Health Day let’s take time to step back and look and see what we can do to make a difference.