Are you OK? Three simple words. Have you recently wanted to ask a colleague that question? Have you wanted someone to ask you? As we mark World Mental Health Day today, take a moment to think about that little question and the power it can have.
The majority of us have experienced poor mental health in the workplace, either personally or in the lives of friends and colleagues. Much progress has been made to reduce stigma and increase support, but there is much more to do and I would argue we are still short of the cultural shift required. By cultural shift I mean that in the workplace:
- we take responsibility for our own wellbeing;
- we take collective responsibility to look out for and support others;
- we understand that mental health is not a binary matter of ill or well, but is a spectrum;
- we understand that talking and listening is the best medicine, and we trust the support of our employer and colleagues.
I am a Deloitte tax partner and also a Mental Health Champion. The Champion role is one of the most rewarding I have within Deloitte and has two main components. Firstly, Champions around the country are responsible for raising awareness, speaking to teams and communicating the various support networks in place. We tell our stories, encourage others to, and push for the cultural shift noted above.
Secondly, we are an independent sympathic ear for people with concerns about themselves or a colleague. In 5 years I have spoken with more than 60 people. Most share a common theme of experiencing some difficulties at work or at home which they don’t feel they can control and which are causing worry, anxiety, stress. I listen and I encourage people to make some conscious choices and changes. We talk about the things completely outside of our control and how beneficial it can be to identify them, not dwell on them, and focus instead on matters we can influence. We also talk about accessing more formal support structures such as one to one counselling which can be accessed quickly and confidentially through our Employee Assistance Programme.
Mental Health Champions do not solve people’s difficulties, but we can be a really helpful first step towards support and recovery. Taking that first step can still be hard, so we are investing in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for a quarter of our partners and directors in the firm in order to deliver on the cultural shift mentioned above. MHFA equips us to identify signs of poor mental health and to initiate conversations to support individuals. A simple “Are you OK?” at the right time can do wonders to help those suffering in silence.
So, on World Mental Health Day 2018, we can all use the power of “Are you OK?” to bring better mental health to our workplaces.