Mental health is a critical issue for all of us. Depression and anxiety are common mental disorders: they affect hundreds of millions of people across the world, and are a leading cause of disability. The impact on people’s lives can be huge. So mental health is every bit as important as physical health, even if the outward signs are often less visible.
And of course there is a close connection with the world of work. Poor mental health has a massive negative impact on work and productivity (with long-term sickness absence often due to poor mental health). And, in turn, our experience at work has a big impact on our overall wellbeing. For all these reasons, the Civil Service leadership, spearheaded by Jonathan Jones, is fully committed to promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace, and to supporting staff who have mental disorders.
Modest steps - big change
What can we all do to help with this, day to day, at work? I think the most important thing is to talk about mental health, recognise how important it is, and create and support a culture where it is treated as seriously and sympathetically, and discussed as openly, as physical health. We should all take care of our own wellbeing, and look out for our friends and colleagues. There is lots of good advice here, on the Time to Change website.
Here are some ideas: modest steps, but which together can add up to a big change.
* Talk about mental wellbeing. And think about it. How are you feeling today? What would make you feel better? How about those around you?
* Experiment to see what techniques help you deal with pressure or anxiety during the working day. For some it is exercise, or listening to music; for others, talking to friends. I find that just getting out of the building for some fresh air and a short walk does wonders for my state of mind. Find out what works for you, and make it part of your day; and then talk to others about it. (There are some great tips on the website of mental health charity Mind, here.)
* Keep an eye out for friends and colleagues (1 in 4 of us are likely to have a mental health problem to deal with in any one year); if someone starts behaving differently, talk to them; ask them how they are; listen to what they say; think about how you can help (there is good advice here).
* If you’re a manager, pay special attention to your staff; try to create a non-judgemental environment where your staff will feel comfortable talking to you if they are finding things difficult.
* Find out what your organisation offers to promote mental health and help people deal with problems. If it is not good enough, demand more!
One of the things I am most proud of at the Treasury is our approach to mental wellbeing:
* we have a very active Mental Wellbeing Network, which holds regular discussions and events to focus on wellbeing in the workplace – raising awareness, tackling lack of understanding, sharing experience, developing confidence (alongside others, I’m be speaking at an event today on resilience – sharing experience on what works for me, and what doesn’t);
* our Flexible Workers’ Network supports people working flexibly and offers tips on how to make a success of it (and we know that this makes a major contribution to wellbeing);
* we have a network of volunteers, the Treasury Supporters, who are there to help their colleagues cope with problems that may be affecting their working life; they are fully trained (some as Mental Health First Aiders, a great source of support in several departments); and they are completely independent of management, and entirely confidential;
* we try to measure how we are doing, with a regular pulse survey on wellbeing and work/life balance (and we’ll be getting the latest results today); and
* like much of the Civil Service, we actively support the Time-To-Change campaign – a movement that aims to change the way we all think and act about mental health, and to end discrimination.
It wasn’t always like this at the Treasury, and it doesn’t fit everyone’s image of the department. But over the last few years we have made huge progress – and all of it driven by the actions of staff. Management is fully supportive, and visibly so, but it was staff across the department who got the ball rolling, and have pushed us to get better. And you can do the same where you work.
Talking, listening, trying to change things. Small actions that can make a big difference, for you and for others. Please join this campaign. Today’s the day to start.