Mental Health Awareness Week 13-19th May 2019
Do you know, it thrills me when I see the various campaigns out there and especially when they are about raising awareness around mental health. It’s not before time that we are really engaging with the subject, especially as, believe it or not, it applies to our universal human condition.
I was shocked, if not a little confused, to hear someone say: “I don’t have mental health”, when I was talking to them about this very subject. What the individual actually meant was that she didn’t have mental ill-health. Of course, as I was speaking to her in my professional capacity, it was my duty to correct her and reassure her that she did indeed have mental health; whether that had been compromised in some way was a matter for the assessment I was undertaking.
It’s interesting, I think, that as soon as the word “mental” is used, some people automatically think that this is a slur on their character, even today, when we are so much better at communicating the importance of health generally. So, what I’m trying to communicate is that we all have a mental health, which is intrinsically linked to our physical and spiritual health. So, what we know is that if one area of our wellbeing has been compromised, then it is likely that another area will be compromised as a result. For example, break a leg and I may feel pretty fed up mentally as I’m prevented from going about my well organised and busy life.
So what is mental health? Well, it is a state of being that affects how we think, feel and act. It is a state of well-being that enables us to live and work fruitfully within our various relationships and communities, enables us to maximise our full potential and helps us to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. But, as human beings, our mental health fluctuates throughout our lives, just as our physical health does. Complex beings that we are means that we are often exposed to difficulties along the way that have the potential to challenge our coping mechanisms and leave us pretty isolated if we do not draw the support that we need. But, our capacity to draw that support will depend on a number of factors.
As a counsellor, I’m fascinated by human behaviour and human development. I’m mindful that the way in which we function as adults is borne out of our formative experience. If our childhood experiences had not been supportive or affirming, then we may be less likely to reach out to others for support as adults. Fear of being ridiculed or labelled is often a stumbling block, especially among the men I see in my counselling room. I’m mindful too that cultural issues may also inform our capacity to draw support. Common features might include a “stiff upper lip” mentality that does
allow for the expression of vulnerability.
The shocking truth is that in 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain. Of these, 75% were male and 25% were female. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. Less extreme, it is estimated that 1 in 6 adults experiences a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression and 1 in 5 adults has considered taking their own life at some point.
So I wonder, where are you in all of this? What was your early experience? How easy is it for you to open up about difficulties you are struggling to address? Well, if I only have one message, then it is this:
• Admitting you have a problem is not a weakness and, if anything, it takes great strength to acknowledge it and to share it.
• Asking others for help is acceptable, not everyone is going to be unsympathetic.
• If you struggle to trust those in your personal life then it is essential to seek professional help: speak to your GP or other authorised mental health practitioner.
• Remember, relationships and engaging with others is key to our mental health; take that first step, it may be the hardest, but it may well save your life.
Best wishes, Jan
As I go about my work, it’s not unusual to hear employers and employees say that it’s not their responsibility to care for mental health at work… and, yes, some people really do say that!
Of course, far from wanting to be critical, I would encourage people to take responsibility. You see, as employees, we have a duty to manage our own response to the pressures of work, just as much as it is our employer’s duty to ensure that appropriate care is taken to minimise the potential for stress and other mental health difficulties.
This is an enormous topic and one that is increasingly familiar to organisations, particularly as the incidence of stress in the workplace continues to escalate. How can that be allowed to happen, I hear you say. Well, it appears to be quite simple really; what we tend to do is to become reactive to issues as opposed to being proactive to them. Managers are often highly pressured and their capacity to prioritise may be heavily compromised as they seek to meet the demands of the business and staff welfare may not always be at the top of a list of priorities as a result. Employees are often struggling to keep up with the demands of their work, becoming so overwhelmed that their capacity for self-care may be heavily compromised too. The difficulty arises when these issues are not addressed.
Whilst, of course, stress is a natural human response in our desire for survival, it seems to me that we increasingly appear to accept that living with the adverse effects of it is normal. How often I hear people say that they are so very stressed, yet appear to take little or no action to address their response. However, that sense of feeling overwhelmed tends to prevent people from taking a physical and emotional step back from the issues that continue to fuel the problem.
Well, something has to give here, does it not? You see, if we continue to maintain a reactive response then nothing will change. So, today, I would encourage you to take one small step back, literally, and ask yourself these questions: Am I experiencing the effects of stress? Do I want to do something about it? Do I need some help to do that? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I also encourage you to visit the following website: www.getselfhelp.co.uk and search for the guide: “Self Help For Stress”, which is free to download. However, I must add that this document is not just for bedtime reading, (actually I wouldn’t recommend you read it at bedtime) as it requires you to engage with it as a working resource.
If you are a manager and you are struggling to discern how to respond to employees who are experiencing stress at work, you might wish to consider performing a Stress Risk Assessment and relevant information can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards. This is an opportunity to work collaboratively, to assess how your employee is responding to the pressures of the workplace and how they might be best supported. Oh, and don’t forget to care for yourself in the process!
I wish you well in your exploration and please do consider accessing our services here at JR Corporate Health should you feel that some professional support might be helpful! https://jrcorporatehealth.co.uk
It’s been a busy old time for me this past year. I’ve gone through the demanding process of moving house and into a brand new area. Establishing a new home, getting to know new people, reflecting on how I can make new friends and going out there and doing just that has been demanding indeed! I’ve also, with my life and business partner, set up a new project and, as many of you might be able to identify with, this can be both mentally and physically exhausting. I have worked hard in all areas of my life and, surprisingly, considering the business that I am in, I did not realise just how much my energy levels had become severely depleted.
Having had the opportunity to take some quality time out over the Christmas period has enabled me to step back and really take the opportunity to reflect on the impact of such a year. When we are caught up in the business of everyday life at home and at work, we often don’t see how life in all its fullness depletes us of our energy and has the potential to make us less effective in the things we have to do both personally and professionally.
The opportunity to take time out, therefore, is essential for our wellbeing. Whether for a weekend or longer, taking a step back from our busy lives gives us the opportunity to recharge our batteries and so puts us in a better position to face our lives anew. Think about it, can we keep on bashing away at our laptop without occasionally plugging it in the mains socket? Well, of course not and the same is true for us.
I have returned to my desk this brand new year with a renewed sense of energy. My mind is buzzing with ideas for the next stage of our project. My body longs to get outside and exercise... and I say this after having been stretched out on a sun lounger for the past couple of weeks, which is hardly surprising. Personally and professionally I feel that I can take on the world and achieve what I want to achieve.
As I write this, I am mindful of the breaks for busy people that we are planning for this year and, if like me, you have felt the need for some R&R then give us a call to check out what is on offer for our weekend away ... go on, you are most certainly worth it!
With very best wishes for a successful and productive 2019. Jan
JR Corporate Health blog covering topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.