This week – 13-19th May – is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation and designed to open up the conversation around mental health issues and help remove the stigma surrounding it.
Mental health issues are a normal part of life. We all have mental health and having mental ‘good’ health linked to general wellbeing is what we all need to aspire to. Our ability to respond to challenges that are thrown our way all depends on how healthy our mental health is – the car which broke down and requires an expensive repair, the delayed train on your way to an important meeting, or simply that you haven’t had a moment to yourself all day and you just need 10 minutes and a restorative cuppa but your home is a battleground of warring children and an irate partner after a bad day at work. Or maybe that’s just my house! Life continually throws challenges at us but having mental ‘good’ health enables us to remain robust in the face of these challenges. The real problems start when you find yourself saying ‘I’m at the end of my tether’ referring to the point at which our capacity for dealing with these challenges is at its very limit and that’s when we begin to tip into mental ‘ill’ health.
In any one year, approximately one in four people experience at least one diagnosable mental health issue with 75% of mental health illnesses striking before the age of 18. These include anxiety, self-harm, panic attacks and depression. Pretty shocking statistics, I’m sure you’ll agree. In terms of the working population, 72m working days a year are lost in the UK, costing the UK economy £94bn a year, according to the OECD. As a result, this has become a charged subject and one that has sparked conversations about the roles of companies, individuals and governing bodies in how we support those with mental health issues. As a 21st-century employer, Newgate wants to ensure that we are approaching this challenge in a supportive, practical and far-reaching way.
Mental health is hugely stigmatised in society and extremely difficult to broach in the workplace, often only thought about in terms of its impact on productivity and on the teams and clients affected by the situation of the individual. This is inherently damaging, and also wrong in terms of thinking of the benefits. Happy, positive employees may be easier to deal with day-to-day, but we are in the business of communications, with all the varied emotion and opinion that comes with them. If we as an industry can’t set the standard for acknowledging all the different aspects of humanity – from people suffering from workplace stress to those with a long-term condition that needs specialist care and sensitive support – then who can?
At Newgate, we know how hard our people work and how committed they are to their colleagues and their clients. It’s simple courtesy to ensure that – whatever they are facing – we acknowledge how important their wellbeing is to making sure they have the best experience working with us. We believe in the unique potential of everyone who works here – that’s why they were hired! – and we don’t want anyone who comes through Newgate’s doors to feel the need to be something they’re not. We strive to be a compassionate employer offering our team a safe and supportive environment in which to work. Here are some of the things we offer at Newgate:
Mental health first aiders
Newgate has four mental health first aiders: Guy Smith, Kate Cockerill, Vanessa Chance and myself. We are trained in how to spot early signs of mental ill health in our colleagues, offering support and comfort in a confidential and impartial way. Of course, we’re very aware that even acknowledging the need for support is a hugely daunting prospect for someone who is suffering from mental ill health and so a big part of the role of a mental health first aider is to simply provide a listening ear. We are trained to listen and communicate non-judgementally, and then encourage and support people in seeking professional help. This may involve working with their line managers and team to ensure they have a day-to-day support system in place.
Healthcare and health insurance
Many companies offer this as standard, and we make sure to communicate to our team the range of services available for mental health support, from counselling on specific issues to therapies promoting general mental health wellbeing. We strongly believe that companies should ensure that employees can find the support for their individual situation when choosing a provider for health insurance.
As mentioned, mental ill health can strike any of us at any time and so it’s important that employees know that their company is supportive should that ‘end of tether’ feeling creep in. Office initiatives such as the Newgate Wellbeing Forum on Workplace, Walking Wednesday to encourage individuals away from their desks and out into the open air, social groups such as the Newgate ‘Book Worms’ book club, and our mentoring programme all have a role to play in the modern working environment to help handle day-to-day stress.
Mental ill health can be distressing and frightening for the individual in question and those around them. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our fellow Newgate colleagues are happy, secure, supported and cared for. Mental Health Awareness Week may be almost over, but we feel this is a conversation that needs to be happening at companies every day, until the stigma is eradicated.