Mental health in the workplace: Make mental health part of your daily conversations
As part of mental health awareness week, our External Relations Administrator -who is currently training to be a psychotherapist- gave us her take on how mental health has become more of a talking point in the past year and how having conversations about our mental health is crucial.
The importance of mental health has become more prominent in recent years, and became a topic of conversation during the pandemic, which halted our daily social interactions. The physical isolation we collectively experienced was somewhat remedied by the technology we used to continue our social structures like work, school, family and friends, online. Microsoft reported that, at the beginning of the COVID crisis, two years' worth of digital transformation took place in the span of two months. This warp speed to adjust to a new way of being meant that we have become ever more reliant on our devices, which has, in many cases, had a detrimental impact on people’s mental health.
Young people’s mental health has been especially impacted by the lockdowns during 2020 and 2021. With some experiencing loss of a loved one, anxiety, and fear for their future. The many pressures our young people are facing needs to be addressed sensitively. There is an urgency to have open and frank conversations about mental health; paving the way for a time when conversations about our mental health is as normal and expected as talking about the weather or our plans for the weekend.
According to the Young Minds survey conducted in February 2021, young people face significant barriers to getting the mental health they need; school counselling (if it is offered) can often end abruptly when the young person turns 18, followed by being put on an often prohibitively long waiting list for adult mental health services. We have recently seen the rise of digital and virtual support, which may have been a necessity during the pandemic and is often more accessible, but is not the right fit for everyone and can sometimes even contribute to a negative reliance on technology.
An exploration of how to support young people’s mental health due to the impact of the lockdowns and Covid bereavement will pay off in the long run, enabling better wellbeing, positive academic performance and, ultimately, a bright future. The most recent YoungMinds survey found that 67% of the young people surveyed believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. This is a crucial statistic because it informs, not only how important it is to start having conversations with young children about their mental health, but it also acts as essential information for employers to take note of. The workplace needs to be aware of the challenges that the incoming cohort of young employees have faced, and ensure that provisions are made to enable them to thrive in fulfilling, long-term careers.
There is an urgency to have open and frank conversations about mental health; paving the way for a time when conversations about our mental health is as normal and expected as talking about the weather or our plans for the weekend.
As many of Ada’s students will go on to work within the tech industry, how this sector views mental health is important to us. Technology is such a quickly evolving sector which, by definition, doesn’t have an ‘off switch’. In the past year, many of us have experienced ‘Zoom fatigue’ or the seemingly-constant pinging of email notifications; and this is ever-more prevalent in the tech sector. This can be a problem; tight deadlines, askew work-life balance and a lack of supportive resources lead to work-related stress, anxiety and if not addressed quickly may lead to depression and burnout. As a trainee psychotherapist, being with clients who are fearful of discussing the immense pressures they are under is isolating, and one of the common themes spoken about are the inability to ‘switch off’.
It is vital to make mental health conversation normalised, dissolving the stigma that comes with it. Being on the frontline as a mental health worker during the pandemic has taught me that no one is immune to a mental health crisis. The mental health conversation needs to be expanded not just to people within the mental health industry but also to everyone, including schools and workplaces.
What is often not discussed is that Mental health needs maintenance: ‘self care’ is a really important part of keeping our minds healthy. One of the most effective ways is meditation, which has been scientifically proven to be effective in helping both the mind and body feel safe. If you are not into meditation, there are mindful activities like Breathwork, walking (without distractions like podcasts). Other physical activities such as yoga, tai chi, exercises also help release stress.
The tech sector is beginning to wise up to the benefits of improving staff wellbeing; with initiatives such as mental health first aid and training becoming more commonplace. Although there is still a way to go, these improvements, plus a wider understanding of the importance of making mental health conversations a normal party of daily life, will ensure a brighter and more fulfilling future for our young people.