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Blog : Healthy hearts and minds


Healthy hearts and minds

MJ Flanagan, Training Director talks about the necessary subject of mental wellbeing in our businesses.

It's the illness we do not talk about. It still carries so much stigma that people would rather sink into despair than ask for help. 1 in 4 employers (ONS 2001) say they would not employ someone who has suffered from mental health; yet according to the office of national statistics up to 17.3% of the population has suffered from some form of mental disorder; from depression to panic attacks to more serious issues. When we are being asked to achieve more using fewer resources the pressure on us is far greater than it has ever been. Any number of everyday events can trigger these problems - from stress, relationship breakups, to more serious things like moving house or the death of a family member and it can happen to any of us.

I attended a talk by Trisha Goddard on Thursday as part of Morgan Stanley's disability awareness day; where she spoke about mental wellbeing and how her own depression and subsequent break down was received and how different the response was from when she had breast cancer.

"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer the room was full of flowers and cards. The phone did not stop ringing, yet when I had my breakdown there were no cards, people avoided me and there was a real stigma and air of embarrassment" Trisha now works with her husband to advise companies on how to encourage a mentally healthy workforce.

The success and profitability of our businesses relies on the productivity, physical and mental wellbeing and engagement of our people.

We have looked at engagement, but what can businesses do to ensure the mental wellbeing of their people?

  1. Have an open and honest environment where people are not afraid to ask for help.
  2. Put wellbeing on the agenda in one to ones and team meetings.
  3. Trisha suggested a mental first aider who had access to information on sites and resources to help the team, they were then made available perhaps Friday afternoons in the canteen for informal chats.
  4. Have information on help lines and resources on notice boards, have a wellbeing board.
  5. Follow Morgan Stanley's excellent example and have regular talks and awareness sessions for team members.
  6. Have Yoga at lunchtime, running clubs, anything that would encourage exercise.
  7. Think about offering full or part gym memberships as part of their package.
  8. Add training on nutrition and wellbeing to your development plan.
  9. As employers, watch for the signals and give assistance where needed.

It is also important that people take responsibility for themselves; here are Trisha's top tips for mental health:

  1. Know thyself, watch for your signals that indicate when you need to slow down.
  2. Share those signals with family and friends so they can watch for the signs and remind you - do not get upset when they do!
  3. Appoint a mental health friend, who if you need serious help you can go to, let them know in general conversation, perhaps "I read this article and it says we should have a mental health friend so that if I ever have problems I can call for help, guess what you are that person". You can then approach them if need be and say remember I told you I may need you someday well it's today?
  4. Do not be afraid to ask for help, there are many associations out there that can offer advice, such as www.mind.org.uk
  5. Exercise, long walks, lots of fresh air - get outside and breathe.
  6. Take time out and do something you enjoy.
  7. Put yourself on your to do list and not always at the bottom!
  8. Drink and eat sensibly.

I have seen this handled expertly by an organisation when a close family member had a breakdown and was admitted to hospital. I acted as liaison between her and the firm. They were supportive and genuinely concerned, particularly the regional operations director. She was given lots of time off and when it was time to return to work they devised a part-time rota that would gradually increase to full-time as and when she was ready. She has since been promoted twice and is recognised as a valued and important member of the team. She has also used her experience to help others in the business.

We have talked in blogs before about doing a health check on your business in terms of quality and finances. I propose that we literally do a health check to ensure people are coping with stress.

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