In order to create work environments that promote better mental health, it is vital for managers to learn how to spot early signs of mental health deterioration. “Being open about mental health in the workplace is essential,” says Tina Winchester, the Director of Mental Health and Employee Assistance Programs at Mentally Well Workplaces. The organisation provides evidence-based mental health training and courses, encouraging companies to invest in the mental health of their employees. “We all struggle sometimes and the more we talk openly about it, the more comfortable employees feel about raising issues,” adds Tina, who has a distinguished career in mental health and psychiatric services in both Australia and the UK.
Her achievements include sitting on Executive Management Teams, leading projects affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry and Department of Health, project managing the first Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team in the South East of England, and taking on the role of Assistant Mental Health Commissioner. In this exclusive interview, Tina offers advice on how to look after your own mental health and guidance for managers on how to help employees through difficult times.
What are the three most important strategies or habits a person could implement in their lives, for better mental health?
- Prioritise your sleep. This is essential for good mental health and changes to sleep are often the first sign that we are under pressure. We should all aim to get between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night – very few people can function well with less than 7 hours.
- Ditch the hustle mentality. Working long hours, without breaks will have a negative impact on your mental health. We simply cannot be productive if we don’t take breaks and switch off. The 24/7 grind is not something to be celebrated!
- Check your thinking. Most people believe every thought they have and respond to every emotion they feel.
Thoughts are not facts. Be aware of what you are saying to yourself every day. If the things you say to yourself are not things you would not say to someone you love, then change your thinking.
In general, what advice do you have for managers and leaders on how to be aware of their team member’s mental health? What are some key signs that a team member is not doing well, and how might a manager or team leader approach the subject with them?
Tina Winchester: Being open about mental health in the workplace is essential. We all struggle sometimes and the more we talk openly about it, the more comfortable employees feel about raising issues. Some key signs that an employee may be experiencing a decline in their mental health, are any changes to their work pattern, completion of tasks, behaviour, appearance, and interactions with other people. Signs such as not getting things done, absences, poor sleep, poor concentration, irritability, withdrawal, low mood, and anxiety may all be indicators. Also, significant life events, such as relationship breakdown, financial distress, and bereavement can be catalysts for mental health decline.
The best way to approach this is with kindness and without judgement. Find a place that is private, when you both have time to talk, and then be transparent in sharing the things you may have seen, heard or noticed that caused concern. Let them know this is not a performance meeting, but an opportunity to check-in and see how they are doing.
Provide information about your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if there is one available, and encourage the person to consider talking with their doctor about what’s happening. Then be available to support them over the coming days and weeks. It is hard to disclose to another person when we are faced with life’s challenges, and as a manager, you may not be the person that employee chooses to lean on for support, and that’s ok. The most important thing is to encourage that employee to talk to someone that they trust and let them know they’re struggling.
What improvements do you hope to see in the upcoming year, in how companies address mental health in the workplace?
Tina Winchester: If companies had mental health as a regular agenda item on any meeting that involves health and safety or staff matters, then I would be exceptionally happy.
I would like 2021 to be the year that mental health was viewed to be as important as physical health in workplaces. For companies to acknowledge that their culture does impact the mental wellbeing of their workers, and that their culture could contribute to poor mental health, are issues that I’d like to see addressed. This can be addressed in many ways but involves educating people from the CEO down to the Intern.