“We start from the position that the correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill…”
To my mind, this statement from the summary of the recently published ‘Thriving at work’ Stevenson and Farmer review is the first step in addressing fear.
When I talk to leaders, managers and HR professionals, one of the biggest challenges I hear is that they are frightened of what to do when someone in their organisation has any kind of mental ill health. If we can appreciate that, like having a cold, cancer or a broken leg, mental ill health is not a ‘them and us’ situation then we can appreciate that anyone can succumb at any time. Understanding that mental ill health is a natural part of the human condition helps us to normalise it to a point where we stop being scared and start looking for effective strategies that help everyone involved at least to cope and, at best, to thrive.
In the review, Stevenson and Farmer highlight that their work has revealed that:
“the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than we had thought”.
However, they also note that their research has found “green roots of good practice”. They have drawn on this good practice and the evidence that exists to recommend a number of “mental health core standards”.
These core standards create a strong framework for organisations to structure the working environment to best support mental wellbeing. One of the keys is communication; organisations that value their staff and provide ways to listen to their needs will be much better able to support someone with mental ill health. One of the biggest things any one of us can do [as individuals] is listen. When all we need to do is listen, we can put down the fear of not knowing what to do or what advice to give. The people around us at home and work don’t need to be told what to do, they just need to be heard. When we are heard, we are usually able to hear our own best solution.
By all of us becoming aware of our place on a continuum of mental health we can recognise challenges as they arise. For many people simply learning to notice what is going on for them at any point in time can be helpful. As we start to communicate with others, realising that we are not alone in our experiences can be very valuable.
“We talk about physical health, so why don’t we talk about mental health?” – Legal and General
The review quite rightly says we need to create organisations in which people can thrive. Where this is currently not the case, there is not only a major human impact but also a significant one on the bottom line for not only the individual business but the whole economy.
I sincerely hope that this review encourages organisations to move forward in a positive direction to a more holistic approach so that wellbeing initiatives encompass all of a person rather than just their physical health. Whilst there may well be challenges in achieving this, I believe there is the capacity and, often, the will to do so.
The examples of good practice in the review illustrate it and, here at Fresh Air Fridays, we’ve seen that programmes like ours – which build and support mental and emotional resilience – are a simple, yet effective way of making a difference to individuals and, of course, their organisations.
Consequently, I am optimistic for the future and believe collectively, we can: