More and more businesses are putting a focussed emphasis on the need to cater to staff’s mental health. With the sharp rise in the need for mental health services, correlated by the pandemic, many companies believe it is requirement to have a dedicated mental health professional or advisor for staff to confide in. This allows employees to be able to share their thoughts and feeling with an allied health professional, in turn seeking advice on how best to cope with their difficulties and achieve a more positive mindset.
Whilst many businesses will ultimately find it hard to hire another employer in such tough, economic times, one of more beneficial ways to go about this would be to train a current member of staff in the workplace. The most obvious position where this could work would be in HR (Human Resources). HR professionals and representatives already provide a dedicated outlet for employees to disclose sensitive information to, therefore it makes sense to combine these roles for the good of the company.
We spoke to Norden’s Practice Manager, Sharon Brooks, on her role as a mental health advisor, how businesses are taking it upon themselves to tackle mental health issues and how far we’ve come as a nation in attitudes towards mental health.
Why is having a mental health advisor so important in business?
Businesses that introduce a mental health adviser help to develop a culture of openness where everyone can work together. This destigmatises the topic, allowing people to feel comfortable talking about their mental wellbeing and no longer suffering in silence. With mental health impacting on all aspects of society, for businesses this can include increased absentees, reduced productivity and an impact on employee morale.
With an estimated 300,000 jobs lost per year due to mental health, business owners can play a pivotal role in building a business where mental health is at the forefront of its employee wellbeing strategy. Companies with a mental health advisor have already taken the first important step where the advisor can attend training courses and introduce a strategy to create positive changes in the workplace. This will not only benefit the employees but also business owners, by creating a progressive and positive working environment.
What qualifications or learning practices are needed to become a mental health advisor, how is it different from HR?
HR are the perfect department to gain further knowledge and become mental health advisors. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the professional association for human resources and are involved in all aspects of the employee’s work life cycle. HR can work with business owners to bring wellbeing to the forefront, through introducing policies, implement training for managers, curate wellbeing initiatives and alter any necessary work adjustments.
Alternatively, a company’s first aiders may further their knowledge with many organisations by running courses. This includes the mental health charity, Mind, who run courses which raise the awareness of mental health, how to understand and recognise the causes and symptoms, and the support options available. There are also courses to become a trained mental health first aider, the equivalent of a physical first aider, which identifies the signs of mental illnesses and gives confidence to step in and support someone in need of assistance.
With the focus on mental health being one of the main positives to come from the pandemic, is enough being done in businesses to nurture staff well-being?
Mental wellbeing has received huge exposure over the last ten years, with many businesses recognising the need to introduce mental health training and for everyone to understand the importance of looking after our own mental wellbeing. Hopefully we’re getting past the days when people find it difficult to speak up, by everyone taking a positive stance on communicating how they’re feeling, whilst asking and providing support to others. We are continuously getting closer to a time where no one feels that they should suffer in silence.
In 2017, the Government commissioned Thriving at Work – The Stevenson/Farer Review, examining employer’s mental health and its impact. As well as this, Mind developed the Mental Health at Work employer gateway, which offers an abundance of information, resources and training aimed at making employees working lives better.
Is there still a stigma connected to mental health and if so, why is that?
UK Parliament reported back in 2015 that, “anti-stigma campaigns and the growing profile of mental health issues in recent years appear to have gone some way to changing views and dispelling misconceptions about mental illness”. It has allowed people to start regarding mental illnesses in similar ways to physical illnesses and disabilities. Stigma can come from employers, family, friends, misconceptions about mental ill health behaviours and stereotypes portrayed in the media, the treatment displayed by others showing a belief that people can get over mental health issues and a poor use of language. All of these factors are still ingrained within Western society yet slowly but surely, they’re being phased out.
The Equality Act 2010 made it illegal to either directly or indirectly discriminate against people with mental health problems and through this legislation, and campaigns to raise awareness of mental health over the last 10 years, beliefs are gradually changing. Mind estimate that ‘1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England’. Constant awareness and education will help to change any stigma that remains.
What do you believe employees can gain from having a mental health advisor close to hand?
Employees who have a mental health advisor within their workplace will feel they have someone they can go to in times of need, who will listen to them without bias and who can make suggestions where to go for help. Work adjustments may be required, and the mental health advisor can be a go between for the employee and employer.
Employees who are supported by the business owner will be more likely to stay in work with reduced absenteeism and will benefit from being able to work to their full potential. The mental health advisor will also have access to external aid for employees experiencing difficult times and can take a positive role in personal and workplace relationships.
Can you explain to me a time where your mental health has suffered in some way and what you’ve done to combat this, coming out the other side feeling positive and progressive?
Many people walk around without being aware that they have any form of mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorders are just some aspects that impact on our everyday mental health. For example, many of us walk around with mild symptoms of OCD, such as a repetitive activity to check that doors are shut. Sometimes the activity is so mild that an awareness of the action can be enough for the person to take control of it. A good first step is to talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling, but there are also professionals who have the qualified training and experience to help people within all aspects of their life.
These trained professionals can help to address issues which are holding people back and to make positive changes in life. I am a believer that everyone benefits from speaking to a trained counsellor at various times in their life.