May 10th – 16th is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK
And after the last eighteen months you can bet your bottom dollar that someone you work closely with is having a tough time battling mental health problems of some description.
The purpose of Mental Health Awareness Week is to start conversations about mental health in all of the various communities we are part of and consider what affects our mental health positively and negatively. Obviously our work based community, be it an office where we see our colleagues face to face, or more likely the virtual workspace where we see our colleagues on a screen, is a space in which we can make a real difference to those who are struggling.
The Mental Health Foundation reports that the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP. So looking after these people is in the interest of accountancy firms in the UK. But it’s also in the interest of their colleagues, so today we’re looking into ways you can support your workmates on a one to one basis, regardless of your job positions.
What can we do on a daily basis to support our colleagues’ mental health at work?
One of the biggest challenges that creates shame around mental health conditions is the fact that people don’t tend to talk openly about it. And this is something that we all have the power to change. By opening up about our own mental health struggles or those of people we know and love, we’ll encourage colleagues who are struggling to also open up. Talking is key, so a simple act of letting someone you work with know that the topic is open for discussion is a brilliant starting point.
If you suspect that someone in your accountancy team is struggling with their mental health then broach the subject with them but take some time to plan how and when you do this in advance so that they feel comfortable and able to open up.
Things you may want to consider are the time and place of your planned discussion. Don’t ask the question five minutes before you have to catch a bus home and pay attention to the place where your colleague may feel most comfortable.
Each year there there is a theme to Mental Health Awareness Week and in 2021 that theme is ‘Nature’. So could you suggest that you and your colleague meet for a walk in your lunch break or after work? The soothing qualities of nature will help them to feel more at ease and it’s well known that some people find it easier to open up when they don’t have to make eye contact with the person they are talking to. A stroll side by side is the perfect way to have a relaxed chat.
Really try to actively listen. Ensure that your colleague knows that you are following what they say by making appropriate gestures and nods but try not to interrupt them or question what they are saying. When you’re certain that they have said what they need to, ask appropriate questions and recap what they have said so they know you have truly heard them. Try hard not to let them feel judged or to let on if you are surprised or shocked by what they are saying.
It will be a real temptation to respond to their worries with suggested solutions but it’s worth taking the time to ask your colleagues how they’d like to see their mental health concern resolved. How do they want to feel and how do they think they can achieve that? By all means follow this up with constructive advice on next steps but be sure to let them set their own path to recovery.
Trust is a huge part of the success of these conversations. If you feel you need to involve a third party (with the absolute exception of a suicide concern which we’ll cover in a moment), seek the permission of your colleague before you do so. Explain why you think that person (possibly your line manager or perhaps occupational health) may be able to help and seek their commitment to accessing that help.
What about supporting accountancy colleagues who are off sick at home with a mental health problem?
This is harder, but by no means impossible.
A perceived sense of shame and fear of judgement are often big causes of a delay in mental health recovery and a return to work. If one of your colleagues is off sick at home, send them a text and offer to meet up in person or online. The simple assurance that one of your colleagues is looking out for you will make walking back through that office door a much less daunting prospect for your colleague.
And finally what should you do if your accountancy colleague confides that they are feeling suicidal?
If you are actively listening to your colleague as we’ve suggested above and you fear that their mental health condition is relatively severe, one of the direct questions you should not be afraid to ask is if they’ve considered taking their own lives.
And on rare occasions the answer may be yes. This is such an important situation to be prepared for, yet often it’s not something we’ve ever researched.
The Mental Health Foundation report that it is a myth that talking about someone’s suicidal intentions will make them more likely to commit suicide. In fact the opposite is true, so all of the tips above still apply to someone who has confided suicidal contemplation to you.
If you don’t feel they are at risk of suicide in the immediate hours and days after you meet you should ensure that your colleague knows about the support services available to them. They can dial 116123 any time, day or night and speak to a trained member of staff at Samaritans. You should also encourage them to reach out to their GP if they’ve not already done so.
If you are concerned for someone’s immediate safety, or they tell you that they plan to end their life imminently, you can call 999 and ask for the police or take them to an A&E Department.
There are many reasons why your colleagues may be suffering with their mental health. Not enjoying their job might be one of them and in these instances we are always on hand to help. As well as experienced accountancy recruiters we’re proud of our career counselling skills and if you’d like to chat about why work is making you feel stressed, anxious or depressed we’re here to help. We might suggest a temporary post as an interim accountant while you get yourself back on top form or it might be that a change of firm and role will give you a sense of challenge to aid your recovery.
Either way we’re here to help and are just a phone call away.
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