Mental health awareness
07 May 2021

Your mind matters: Mental health awareness

Mental Health Awareness Week 9-15 May 2022 and World Mental Health Day 10 October

Modern life is demanding and yet we are all expected to remain perfectly poised while juggling work, relationships, money, and our physical health. Understandably, most of us will experience challenging times that, without appropriate support, could affect our mental wellbeing. Add in the recent global pandemic that has left even the most powerful nations reeling, and it’s not surprising that even the most resilient individuals are feeling the strain. Mental health awareness is now more important than ever, and fortunately it is on the rise.

So, what is mental health?

The World Health Organisation describes good mental health as a state of well-being in which individuals can realise their potential, cope with everyday life, work productively, and contribute to their community. Most people experience a relatively stable state of mental health throughout their lives, but mental health is fluid and can change in response to social, psychological, and biological factors. Mental illness occurs when a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions begin to disrupt their work, normal daily activities, and personal relationships. 

Mental illness can take many forms of varying severity, including:

  • Drug and/or alcohol misuse
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders, such as extreme narcissism or paranoia
  • Psychosis, such as bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia

Why is mental health important?

Roughly a quarter of adults in England have been formally diagnosed with mental illness, and another sixth experience diagnosable mental health conditions. As well as affecting the individual’s quality of life, mental health issues cost the UK economy around £45 billion pounds every year. This is largely due to the many millions of work days lost, but many workers feel compelled to plough on even when unwell. This “presenteeism” accounts for more than half of the economic costs. There is a clear need to remove the stigma so people can talk freely about emotional issues without being judged, and start down the road to recovery.

What can workplaces do?

All employers are responsible for the health and safety of their staff, and this includes their mental wellbeing. Whether you invest in awareness training or provide onsite support, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

One major problem is that many people don’t know how to recognise mental health issues, how to talk about them, or what treatments are available. As a result, many people do not seek the help they need, and a minor issue can develop into an illness that is much harder to recover from. The best thing a workplace can do is be clear about the mental health support on offer. Encourage managers to adopt an open-door policy, welcome discussions around mental health, and be flexible about changing someone’s working conditions to ease their situation.

Some organisations employ a dedicated Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) who is trained in recognising signs and symptoms of various conditions and can provide support before a person seeks professional help, such as developing a Wellness Action Plan. They also help raise awareness, reduce stigma and discrimination, and improve overall health and wellbeing in the workplace.

What can individuals do?

Everyone should take stock of their emotional state every now and then. If you can spot signs that your mental health is starting to suffer, you can take positive steps to stay in good spirits.

  • Ask for help. No one is superhuman, and everyone gets tired and overwhelmed sometimes! 
  • Talk about your feelings with friends, family or a professional.
  • Keep in touch. Social contact is critical to being – and feeling – human.
  • Exercise often. Physical activity boosts self-esteem and improves sleep, so go for a walk, run, cycle or swim (in a quiet, nature-filled area if possible).
  • Eat well. A healthy diet is good for your body and mind. Increase greens and proteins! 
  • Drink sensibly. Alcohol is only a temporary escape from the bigger issues.
  • Take a break. A change of scenery or activity can help you destress.
  • Do something you’re good at. You can guarantee a sense of success with simple pleasures.
  • Let light in. Natural light improves productivity and mental wellbeing.
  • Let nature in. Plants purify the air and provide us something to nurture.

Knowing when to reach out to someone, either to offer or ask for help, could make a world of difference, So don't hesitate to make the first move.