You may think speaking openly about mental health in the workplace is not the “done thing”. Rather a topic to discussed in hushed tones behind closed doors. Well, think again, today #TimetoTalkDay led by Time to Change is about empowering everyone to have those conversations. It is organisations’ and individuals’ opportunity to reduce #stigma and talk about mental health and mental-ill health in an open way.
We regularly talk about our physical health don’t we? Going to the gym, new year’s resolutions to lose weight, charity runs etc. We are all aware that everyone has emotional and psychological health. So, let’s create parity by talking about mental health in the same way too.
This year’s theme for #TimetoTalkDay is “Wherever you are, Talk about mental health”. For some workplaces this may feel daunting and overwhelming. Below are just some ways in which you can get the conversation started in a fun and inclusive way. Whether that’s today or any other day. I am sharing knowledge about events that I have found worked to bring people along.
One of my absolute favourites is the depressed cake shop competition. You may be reading this and thinking what is she talking about? Well, check out some amazing photos at the Depressed Cake Shop website. The idea was started by Emma Thomas and is now a global phenomenon. It is what it says, making and baking cakes that are dull, grey and glum on the outside, but bright and vibrant on the inside. This is impactful as it gets people talking about depression, mental health and recovery. There are so many fabulous bakers out there and who doesn’t enjoy a sweet treat at 11am? Throw in a prize for the most depressed cake and voila, you will have a good number of people wanting to take part. Any money raised can be donated to a mental health charity of your choice. This was such a winner when I worked at Imperial College London.
A lunchtime drop-in held in a communal area also works well. Staff can bring their lunch, make a hot drink and meet new colleagues. To encourage conversations about mental health, question/thought cards can be placed on the table. Some examples for the cards are:
- how are you today?
- tell me something positive that has happened to you today
- how could you create more time for yourself each week?
- what are your top tips when you feel low?
This is a gentle way to make staff feel comfortable and normalise the subject. The other win here is staff are taking a lunch break and getting away from their desks, great for wellbeing and productivity.
An email from a senior leader sends out a positive clear message of support to all staff. This has been a real gamer changer for banks and the financial sector as part of their open-workplace journeys. Especially if someone in the organisation is willing to speak out about their lived or personal experience of mental ill-health. It can get the ball-rolling and be a starting point to build-on for future work. We are all familiar with the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental-ill health in any given year. Therefore, the chances are that every workplace will have staff who have a story to tell. Providing a platform for this encourages others to share their stories, builds a community and increases trust within teams and across organisations.
It may be chilly outside, but how about walk and talk meetings? Stepping away from your desk to get fresh air allows you to see a new perspective on things. For those of you that have access to a park or greenery, research has shown that being in nature reduces the stress hormone cortisol and lowers blood pressure. Another useful paper on Streetscape Greenerypublished in 2013 is a fascinating read highlighting the link between urban nature and mental health. If colleagues and team members are open to this idea, it’s a great way to have a 1-2-1 and come up with alternative ideas or solutions. The Mental Health Foundation’s research has found that even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Don’t delay, get out on that walk today!
Together we can work towards #destigmatising mental illness one conversation at a time. Creating a culture whereby we can all talk about our mental health. Whether that be when we are at our optimum as well as times when we don’t feel mentally fit. If not today, then there are 364 days of the year to have these vital conversations.