Why are we so reluctant to talk about our mental health, especially in the workplace, and within our communications?
In a world that is increasingly connected through various forms of communication, discussing mental health has never been more important.
We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. However, we will easily talk to a colleague or friend openly about our physical health, but so often we are reluctant to mention our mental health and the struggles we may be facing. We often mention our bad backs, our asthma or even our bed heads, hangover induced or not, but won't mention our anxiety or ADHD. There is a stigma associated with the topic that impacts every one of us.
Mental health is a vital element of employee wellbeing, performance and your organisation's culture. Employees are your most valuable asset.
- 56% of employers said they'd like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right guidance. (Mind)
- 30% of staff said they wouldn't feel able to talk openly with their line manager if feeling stressed. (Mind)
- 14% of employees said they had resigned because of workplace stress. (Mind)
- Mental ill health costs UK employers approximately £56 billion each year. (MHFA England)
Creating a culture of mental health awareness
As communicators, we have a unique opportunity to use our communications channels and skills to create a culture of mental health awareness, understanding and action.
Whilst we can raise awareness, help reduce the stigma, and provide support or resources, these are all fairly standard and generic approaches. Don't be afraid to tell the story and talk about mental health in your communications. Be brave!
We must be brave in showing our vulnerability through telling real stories about how we ourselves have experienced these difficulties or sharing the stories of those in senior roles. For many, knowing that other people — particularly those in influential or visible roles — are not immune to the effects of mental illness is the key to establishing the environment where mental health becomes part of the conversation.
It can be as simple as having a weekly feature in your news bulletin where staff share their own wellbeing tips, empowering them to own the narrative. This will help to build trust within your workforce and unlock growth.
Normalise the language: mental health is health. We don't think twice about telling people we have a dentist appointment — do the same for your counsellor.
Behaviours build trust: don't encourage staff to take breaks and log off for the night and then email them at an ungodly hour.
Only when people see their issues, problems and conditions in others can we truly remove any associated taboo and encourage real conversations.
Tips for discussing mental health in communications:
- Educate yourself: Before engaging in conversations about mental health, educate yourself about different mental health conditions, their symptoms, and available resources. This will help you speak more knowledgeably and avoid spreading misinformation.
- Active listening: When someone opens up about their mental health, be an active and empathetic listener. Give them your full attention, validate their feelings, and avoid judgement.
- Use inclusive language: Avoid derogatory terms or stereotypes that can perpetuate negative attitudes towards mental health issues.
- Respect privacy: Always respect an individual's privacy and boundaries. Some people may prefer to keep their struggles private, so don't pressure them to share more than they are comfortable with.
- Share personal experiences wisely: Sharing your own experiences with mental health can be powerful, as it shows others that they are not alone. However, be mindful of the context and the emotional wellbeing of the person you're talking to.
- Promote resources: Be aware of local mental health resources and services that you can share with someone in need. Having information readily available can be incredibly helpful.
- Encourage professional help: If someone's mental health seems to be deteriorating or they are in crisis, encourage them to seek professional help.
- Normalise self-care: Promote self-care practices as part of your communication. Encourage people to prioritise activities that promote mental wellbeing, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies.
- Lead by example: If you are in a leadership role or have a platform, use it to lead by example. Discussing your own mental health challenges and supporting mental health initiatives can inspire others to do the same.
Remember that it's okay not to have all the answers; what matters most is showing empathy and a willingness to listen and learn.
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