Expert advice issued on managing mental health in the workplace

Mental health awareness weekMental health can affect people’s personal lives, wellbeing and morale. But it can also impact on their performance at work and be costly for businesses. That’s the message from Acas, which, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, has issued a guide to managing mental health in the workplace. It advocates creating an environment where people feel confident they can disclose conditions to employers; that employers be aware of any changes in behaviour that might suggest they’re having problems; and suggests that if a problem is being caused by work, look into ways of facilitating changes, such as offering flexible working opportunities.  It is also suggested that wellness initiatives which encourage healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness can also help to reduce the severity of mental ill health.

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Adviser said: “Approaching a member of staff about their mental health can be very challenging for a manager or a work colleague.

“To coincide with Mental Health Awareness week, we have offered some top tips on how best to raise the delicate issue of mental health in the workplace.”

Acas’ top tips include:

Keep your eyes open: The first sign that someone may have depression or a problem with their mental health is often in changes in their day-to-day behaviour. This could be uncharacteristic behaviour such as not being able to cope with their work, seeming distracted, a sudden loss in motivation or absenteeism. Look out for these signs as a potential warning that someone may be suffering from the early signs of depression.

Don’t make assumptions: We all have our ups and downs, so a change in behaviour doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a problem. If you do notice inconsistent behaviour, then try to establish whether it’s just a blip, or perhaps the signs of a more serious problem.

Get to the root of the problem: It’s rare for someone to voluntarily talk about a mental health problem. Approaching a colleague who you feel may be suffering from a mental health issue is not easy. Try and arrange a moment to catch someone privately, and informally ask if they are feeling ok and happy.

How you can help: Depression or anxiety can sometimes be caused because of a work issue or a personal one. Act accordingly when you establish what the cause of the problem is. If it’s work related then you have the responsibility and control to help remedy it. If it’s a domestic issue, then think hard about the changes you can implement to make things easier, such as flexible working. If they have not already found support, point them in the right direction towards help from their GP or a counsellor. Many workplaces are trying new and innovative techniques for promoting positive mental wellbeing like Mindfulness.

Create a culture: Workplaces need to have a culture where individuals feel comfortable to disclosure their mental health condition to their manager if they want to. The long-term aim should be to create a working environment which eradicates the stigma mental health can carry. Introducing policies will help doing this, so staff know and feel comfortable in feeling able to talk about the topic. Making support options available, like employment assistance programmes or access to occupational health can also help.

Walk the talk: A policy will only work if lived out in practice. Work with your HR manager and team to ask them to train management and staff, and teach them to handle things sensitively. Evidence also suggests that exercise, a balanced diet and a healthy work pattern can help treat mild depression, so ask the company to provide advice and encouragement in these areas.

Acas has published free guidance on mental health at work.