MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE

Everyone is talking Mental Health – but what is it?

Just like physical health, we can all suffer from mental ill-health at different times of our lives. To be completely healthy we need to be both physically and mentally healthy. So, before we look more closely at mental health and why everyone is talking about it, it is worth thinking about what both physical and mental health means to you.

Physical Health

When we talk about being in good physical health, images of honed Nike models or athletes may come to mind, or even a demolition operative effortlessly swinging a 14lb sledge hammer! When we think about our own physical health we tend to consider our own strength, endurance, flexibility and indeed how tight the top button feels.

But what about Mental Health?

When you think about mental health what do you imagine? Unfortunately, many people may conjure up negative thoughts and images. Words such as depression, anxiety, shame or stress may come to mind, and if so we are actually thinking mental ill-health.

Regrettably, there is a stigma attached to mental ill-health and this means many people may feel unable to talk about it and as such may become more mentally unhealthy over time.

On the flip side good mental health is characterised by the ability to learn, to express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions, to form and maintain good relationships and the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty.

So why is everyone talking about Mental Health?

Well, in the work place, and regardless of our position or role, we are all under a considerable amount of pressure to perform. This pressure can ultimately have a detrimental effect on our mental health, be that feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed through to more adverse feelings of anxiety or depression.

Alarmingly, in a report commissioned by the UK government, the Construction Industry has been cited as an industry that suffers from higher than average mental ill-health. These findings were mirrored in the Construction News mental health survey which found that one in four construction workers had considered taking their own life.

They also reported that 55% of workers had experienced mental ill-health issues, and that 42% had suffered these issues at their current place of work. Similar findings were also published in the Health & Safety Executive; Stress, Anxiety or Depression 2017 report which identified work-related stress as a major factor in occupational ill-health and the primary cause of absence in many industries. The report identified:

  • Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 40% of all work related ill-health
  • 49% of all working days lost due to ill-health
  • Presenteeism is on the rise with employees coming to work disengaged, unmotivated & too stressed to work
  • Predominant causes of work related stress were workload, in particular tight deadlines, too much work or too much pressure or responsibility

These reports show that while the Construction Industry has made great progress with safety initiatives it is now vital to address poor mental health in the workplace. If this can be achieved we should see a further reduction in accidents and incidents and an increase in productivity and overall performance.

Within the Construction Industry there have been several positive steps taken such as the introduction of mental health first aiders who are trained to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and provide help on a first aid basis. However, just like the trained Physical First Aider doesn’t actually stop someone from having the accident in the first place, neither can a Mental Health First Aider stop the gradual onslaught of mental ill-health in a person. Often by the time the physical and behavioural effects of mental ill-health become apparent considerable damage has already been done.

We can however, on a personal level, all improve our mental health in the same way as we can improve our physical health. We can all become more resilient enabling us to better cope with and manage the pressures of life and work. Being resilient is not a trait but a learnable skill. Imagine training for a marathon or other physical challenge, time is spent honing muscles, endurance and skills ensuring you are ready to perform at your optimal level. Building your resilience is just the same.

Recently at the NFDC headquarters all staff attended an Intelligent Energy Management workshop to help them build mental strength and resilience. The key being that by building greater resilience capacity they would be better prepared, have greater flexibility, make smarter decisions and keep a cool head in challenging situations. A variety of different tools and techniques were presented that were designed to:

  • Reduce symptoms of personal and professional stress such as confusion, fatigue and sleep disturbance.
  • Increase personal energy levels which is key to strengthening and building resilience.
  • Control the ability to think clearly under pressure and recognise appropriate solutions to problems.
  • Increase the ability to maintain situational awareness.
  • Improve reaction times and coordination.

Utilising a sophisticated and advanced heart-rate monitor, NFDC staff also benefited from seeing, in real-time, how emotions affect heart rhythms and how by using simple techniques they can regulate their heart rate patterns and build their resilience, increasing their energy levels. One of the key takeaway messages being that all the techniques can be used eyes open, in the moment and without anyone knowing.

The scientifically validated programme is currently being used globally by other businesses, hospitals and health professionals, schools and universities, Olympic teams and elite athletes as well as military personal who are all seeking to reduce the effects of stress and perform at their optimum level.

The same resilience building skills have been successfully utilised by a demolition contractor in the UK who were keen to improve mental wellbeing and health, while reducing stress, boosting performance and productivity, the results are extremely encouraging with participants reporting:

  • A reduction in stress and anger levels by 27% and 18% respectively.
  • A 10% reduction in anxiety and feeling worried.
  • Feelings of appreciation increased by 92% with employees also reporting that they are 62% more likely to feel calm

 

These results also highlight that employees feel significantly more positive and have greater emotional energy that enables them to have an optimistic and fulfilling life, ensuring they have more energy to invest both at work and home.

 

In summary, if you and your colleagues are in good physical and mental health, you will be more motivated, more productive, more resilient, more likely to stay with the business and, most importantly, happier both at work and at home.

Isn’t it time we started talking about good mental health in the workplace?

 

Dave Price, Managing Director, Vector Equilibrium Ltd

June 2018