There has been a fundamental shift in the way we view mental health in the UK in the past decade. Many people these days feel far more comfortable talking about the issue openly and honestly, which is hugely positive. But we still have some distance to go to get rid of the stigma that has traditionally been attached to poor mental health, so it is important that we keep pushing the conversation and finding ways to look after our own emotional wellbeing and support one another.
The language we use is very important in shaping the way we think about and approach the topic of mental health, not least because the very word ‘mental’ continues to carry negative associations. So rather than saying someone is ‘mentally ill’ it can be more helpful to say they are ‘experiencing poor mental health’. Indeed, it can make sense to talk instead about ‘emotional health’ or ‘emotional wellbeing’.
Likewise, rather than describing someone as ‘depressed’, it is more accurate and helpful to say they are ‘experiencing depression’.
You can’t pour from an empty cup
Before we can help other people, we need to support ourselves.
With our physical beings, we know that to stay healthy we need to eat the right nutrition, drink water, exercise and get enough sleep.
Mental health is more of a nebulous thing.
Each individual needs to find the wellbeing strategy that best suits their own unique needs, and that can take time. One thing is for sure: self-care takes more than a bubble bath and a cup of tea.
For many people in financial services, getting the work/life balance right is the biggest challenge and threat to our mental health. This is a big issue. You can’t keep pouring from an empty cup – you need to nurture yourself and replenish your resources, which be a challenge in a pressured work environment.
It can make sense to sit down every Monday morning and write down your goals for the week. To think about and set boundaries. To be realistic about your expectations. To say ‘no’ to some requests.
Small, practical changes can help, like taking a lunch break every day, eating away from your desk, taking a walk outside, and being disciplined about finishing work at the same time every day. Try to have an hour of tech-free time before bed. And never underestimate the importance of sufficient rest and sleep.
A framework to help others
Supporting other people when it comes to their mental health can feel like a big job, and one you are not qualified for. But you don’t have to be an expert to look out for telltale signs. With colleagues, do they look more tired, are they quieter than usual or displaying uncharacteristic behaviours?
If you have spotted a sign, how do you raise it sensitively? You could use the Ask, Listen, Signpost framework:
- Ask – Don’t just ask ‘how are you’? That is too generic and we are programmed to respond with ‘fine’. Be specific – ‘I’ve noticed you have been very quiet in meetings recently. How are you feeling?’. Use compassionate and empathetic language and ask twice. That gives the person a second opportunity to actually speak up.
- Listen – give them your full focus, avoid interrupting when they are speaking, be mindful of your body language and look 100 per cent engaged. But do not try to ‘fix’ them.
- Signpost – remember your boundaries – you are not an expert. Point them in the direction of someone who is qualified to help. There are dozens of helplines available, and many of them are listed here: www.hubofhope.co.uk.
Everymind at Work is currently working on a training programme with Aldermore Bank