Minding out for each other | Mental Health Awareness Week


We are all pretty adept at spotting the signs of physical ailments in our work colleagues and friends, but what about their mental health… 

With this week’s focus on Mental Health Awareness, do you know what you should be looking out for?  And how to respond appropriately if you have concerns?

When I started writing this piece, I looked back to when I was just 20. Having left home in my mid-teens, I was ambitious, driven and determined. I’d got a dream job in a top advertising agency, travelling the world on an international client account.  With no qualifications or degree, I’d got there because I was good and prepared to work very hard to counter the continual comparison with graduates several years older.  I believed I had to work harder, longer, better to prove myself – often starting at 6.30am and leaving at 10pm. Without let up.  I was also studying six subjects at night school three nights a week, taking client work with me to finish when I arrived home late, all incorporated into a demanding travel schedule.

One day I was called into my boss’s office.  I was stunned to be told I was being removed from my post temporarily and put on a month’s sick leave.  Why?

Although no-one at the office had notice any aberrant behaviour, my father had. Having spoken to flatmates and siblings, he was so concerned he rang the agency MD warning he would hold them accountable if I tipped over into what he believed was a looming nervous breakdown.  Only then did they monitor, horrified at my slide into mental self-harm, even though, ostensibly, the company was benefitting.  They hadn’t noticed, and nor had I.

According to research by Personal Group, 39 per cent of companies don’t offer any company mental health support. So what can you do to support your colleagues and keep a weather eye out for mental health issues?

First and foremost, look out for changing behaviour.  It may be radical and quick, or it may be a long slow change. If their diet has shifted from a healthy normal to poor or they’re eating nothing. If their spending seems out of control, their alcohol consumption has soared, they regularly complain of poor sleep or their relationships seem to be rocky. Perhaps they have become obsessed with hardcore exercise. Look out for any disturbances from their norm. One or all of these could be an external signal that all is not well.

And if you do see something that worries you… the critical starting point is to do something, rather than ignoring it and doing nothing.

In talking to Barny Guthrie, CEO of private mental healthcare providers Clinical Partners, I asked what that ‘something’ should be.  He said it was vital that once you’ve noticed a colleague is struggling, don’t sweep it under the carpet.  If you feel confident, talk to the individual. Ask them how they’re doing, if they’re all right.  And don’t be satisfied with a brush-off.  If you’re instinct tells you things aren’t ‘fine’, dig a bit deeper to see if you can find out more.

We all respond very differently to stress and anxiety, so look out for mood swings, unusual responses to everyday occurrences. Yes of course we all have days where we just want to sit at the desk, our head down and get on with work, but if you notice a normally friendly colleague is regularly retreating into this behaviour – are they all right?

If you feel uncomfortable raising it with the individual, talking about the issue to HR or your manager is vital.  It isn’t about prying, but about caring. You’d want to be looked after in the same way. And ensure you also put your concerns in writing or an email. If documented, it makes it harder to ignore, reducing the risk of no action being taken.

It may be that the company itself has never faced employee mental health issues before. Clinical Partners frequently get approached by organisations who know there is an issue but are uncertain what the next steps should be.  Their advice is to bring in an expert – either an occupational or mental health professional. Experienced at balancing the employee’s trust and health needs, with the employer’s business requirements, as an objective third party, they look after both sides developing a plan to ensure the best outcome.

So use Mental Health Awareness week to have a discussion around how you can best look out for each other’s mental health. What works for your team?  Ask if an occupational/mental health expert could come in to do a talk. Instigate mental health awareness training.  Introduce a small group ‘buddy’ system to regularly check in with each other.  And hopefully you will never get to the point that I did, where the intervention came from a family member because my colleagues and company didn’t see anything amiss…

Support URLs:

Clinical Partners work with individuals, families and organisations: http://www.clinical-partners.co.uk/

Personal Group offers an employee wellbeing programme: http://www.personalgroup.com/

Sanctus offers mental health coaching: http://www.sanctus.io/

Clementine app offers calming/hypnotherapy: http://www.clementineapp.co.uk/

Mind mental health charity: http://www.mind.org.uk/

Calm app: http://www.calm.com/

AnxietyUK charity for help with anxiety with therapists at discounted rates and also discount on Calm App


Erica Wolfe Murray featuredErica’s new book ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’ is out now. Full of her usual easy-to-use advice, lots of case studies, quick tips, diagrams and innovative ways to think about growing your business and developing greater commercial resilience – its 288 full colour pages will help you transform your business. Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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