Mental Health Awareness Week

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In line with Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), our award-winning mental health practitioner, Kirsty Vickerman, joined the MD of Howarths, Gavin Howarth on BBC Radio Leeds yesterday.

The pair were invited to speak to breakfast show host, Stephanie Hirst, about mental health in the workplace and the importance of awareness around this subject.

It was revealed that a staggering 61% of employees have experienced some form of mental health problem, and work was a related factor. Luckily, issues surrounding mental wellbeing have become more prevalent, and we have witnessed an increase in people being open about such concerns.

Kirsty indicated that attitudes have changed drastically over time, as people are no longer expected to ‘just get on with it’, and more support systems are available for those suffering.

She commented: “People are more aware of their mental health, so they nurture, appreciate and understand what it means, as well as why we need to look after it.”

Gavin stated there are a number of things employers can do to help protect their team’s mental wellbeing, including taking it seriously and being aware of it – and more specifically for business owners and managers, to lead by example. It’s important to set the standard from the top of the company, whether you’re a huge organisation or a small business.

Gavin added: “The reason why Kirsty and I are talking about this and trying to promote it, is to try and inspire other smaller organisations to think and take action in the workplace. There are lots of things you can do such as regular one-to-ones, which enable you to listen to staff, understand them and build trust.

“Even health initiatives – particularly during Mental Health Awareness Week – can help.”

Howarths have taken this week as an opportunity to hold voluntary mini events every day for the team to attend, to open up the dialogue surrounding mental health in the workplace. These sessions have included group meditation, a walk in the park and a ‘how to keep cool under pressure workshop.’ Gavin highlighted the ease of setting this up, and reiterated that small businesses – who don’t necessarily have a HR department – don’t have to shy away from this.

“Some of these activities aren’t for everyone, but it’s not about forcing it onto people, it’s about sparking the conversation and raising awareness,” said Gavin.

Kirsty added: “It creates a different environment, and taking a break from work makes people more relaxed – especially when you’re engaging in an activity, it’s much less threatening and easier to talk about how you may be feeling.”

Changes in behaviour is a great indicator that someone could be feeling under the weather. Some key things to pay attention to are mood swings, taking longer to complete tasks, making more mistakes than usual or their appearance has altered. People are often fearful to approach someone and ask how they’re feeling, but if this can be overcome the team as a whole will be happier, more productive and engaged – which is a benefit for the entire firm.

Gavin said: “Business is about people – your staff are your key assets. Therefore, you need to invest in them, understand what makes them tick and be a support when they need you. And, as a result your business will flourish.”

The stigma attached to mental health is changing, but there is still work to be done. While there should be onus on an individual to look after this themselves, there is also an obligation for businesses to assist.

If you missed the radio session, catch up on it here:

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