World Mental Health Day 2020

9th October 2020

Employee health and wellbeing – supporting mental health will be even more important this winter

It is well-documented that anxiety, stress and mental ill health spiralled as the UK went into lockdown in March. As we head now into the autumn, with the pandemic roaring back, local lockdowns and restrictions spreading, workers returning to home offices or continuing in deserted offices, and worries about a ‘tsunami’ of job losses, we may well be on the cusp of something akin to a mental ill health and anxiety negative feedback loop.

That makes World Mental Health Day on October 10 especially timely, as it will give all of us, employers and individuals, an opportunity to step back, reflect upon and potentially reset our approach to mental health and wellbeing support.

The theme for this year’s day, as set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is “mental health for all”. In the UK, however, the mental health charity Mind is taking a perhaps more practical approach with a campaign around the theme of encouraging each of us to “do one thing for better mental health”.

Tips for employees and employers

Mind has tips for employees on how to care for your own mental health as well as advice and guidance for employers on how better to support their staff around mental ill-health and emotional wellbeing.

Especially now, when people may have just got used to what was still an abnormal ‘normal’ but are now faced with the sudden return of the virus, being sent back to the home office and having to get to grips with perhaps confusing restrictions local restrictions from the ‘rule of six’ onwards, it is very possible anxiety levels will begin spiralling upwards again.

Factor in longer term worries about what’s going to happen over the winter and at Christmas this year (especially if you have children locked down at universities or elderly relative you haven’t seen since March) and it’s not hard to see how mental ill health, like Covid-19, may come roaring back on the agenda in the coming months. In fact, it may even potentially become even more of an issue, given a cumulative build-up of anxiety, worry and fear over the course of this year.

What, then, can employers be doing about this?

‘Do one thing’ approach

This is where, potentially, Mind’s notion of “do one thing” is something employers can run with and build upon, both during this month but also more generally from a health and wellbeing perspective.

What one thing, for example, can you do to better manage your team’s mental health (especially if they’re now back working from home)? What one sort of conversation or reassurance might be more helpful? What one intervention that makes a difference could you be doing more of?

As Andrew Kinder, Professional Head of Mental Health for Help EAP, explains, this doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or expensive or even organisation wide.

“You could, for example, simply make a resolution that you will informally check in with colleagues more regularly, just to ask how they are. Or one change might be to put in place a cast-iron rule not to send emails out late at night or over a weekend. Or that you’re going to redouble your efforts to look after your own mental health so as to give yourself more ‘head space’ to be there for others,” he says.

“Organisationally, ‘one thing’ could be finally putting in place that mental health training programme you’ve been talking about. Or being more proactive about promoting the value and take-up of the EAP your organisation has in place (and what it can do). Or revisiting whether the benefits platform you’re using or offering, especially in relation to health and wellbeing, is still working effectively for a more remote, virtual, home-working team.

“To an extent it doesn’t matter what your ‘one thing’ is, just that you think about it, discuss it, do it and deliver on it. You can then choose another ‘one thing’, embed that, and then another, and so on,” says Andrew.

“The months of lockdown and loss had a huge impact on us all. For many of us, having felt things were, if not ‘over’ then at least easing, the coming months could be difficult mentally and emotionally. To that end, prioritising your own mental health and that of your teams may become even more important, and challenging.

“There is much, however, that employers and managers can do, starting with having and sustaining the conversations needed to get a transparent and open working environment around mental and emotional health. Using calendar markers such as the World Mental Health Day can be a great way to kickstart that change,” Andrew adds.