Why your mental wellbeing needs to be your number one priority at work

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Recently, a spate of articles have emerged praising CEO Ben Congleton for his response to his employee’s out of office email.

It wasn’t a message of thanks for their work on a tough report, or a heads-up that the car park rota is about to change; he was heralding his employee Madalyn for being open and honest about her mental health.

In the days that followed, the email has flown the nest from humble Michigan to quickly become a world-wide viral message, which serves to teach, remind, and reassure us of an important lesson: that our mental health should always be a number one priority in the workplace.

Even so, it can still be hard to know how to open up about sensitive issues with co-workers and superiors. But with the rise of responses like this, coupled with the engagement and encouragement spreading through social media, they’re all helping to shed the ‘taboo’ status away from mental health.

It’s beginning to prove that the subject is no longer something to be brushed under the carpet, but instead a topic that’s at the forefront of people’s minds.

In a report following the unexpected viral takeover, Ben Congleton said he appreciates how “it is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace,” and that “it is so easy to tell your teammates you are ‘not feeling well’….even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your co-workers about mental health issues.”

Garnering the courage to open up about sensitive issues can be intimidating and overwhelming – but there are online hubs of advice to guide you in the event you feel the need to speak up in your place of work.

For example, Time to Change (a mental health organisation vowing to end mental health discrimination) suggest ways in which you can tell your employer how you are feeling if you are struggling with a mental health issue. The first point in their ‘Telling Your Employer’ section is especially poignant: “remember you are not alone – one in three have experienced mental health problems while in employment.”

Although not everyone may be vocal about their feelings, the statistics prove that more people than we realise suffer with mental health issues on a daily basis, and more often than not, someone sitting near you in your office will have experienced a similar situation without either of you knowing.

Similarly, mental health charity Mind have an online section devoted to mental health practice in the workplace. This ranges from how to take care of yourself to achieve a good work-life balance; the best ways for an employer to take care of their fleet of staff to ensure that the “culture of fear and silence” around mental health is abolished and replaced with a supportive network; as well as access to webinars and training sessions to thoroughly equip a workforce with all they need to know about mental health wellbeing.

However, amidst all the encouragement, Madalyn’s story serves as a reminder that many workplaces still have far to go, and that this reaction is not as commonplace as it perhaps should be. Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind says that “employees need to be reassured that if they are experiencing unmanageable stress or poor mental health, their employer will be understanding and supportive.” It’s good to remember Time to Change’s statement that “you are the expert on your needs,” and only you know what will be beneficial for your wellbeing, so don’t be afraid to ask that of your employer.

We should no longer operate in the “culture of fear and silence” when it comes to mental health. It is not, and will never be something to stay quiet about to keep up appearances, and the sooner the first sentence is spoken, the easier it will become to combat.

About the author

Lucy Farrington-Smith writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate marketing jobs are currently available, as well as their graduate jobs Manchester page for further opportunities.

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