Mental Health Awareness Week - Supporting Employees

15 May 2019

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TW (trigger warning): We will be discussing mental health in detail and some people may find it distressing to read.

In keeping with our vision for 2022, we at Hanson Regan are committed to "Putting our People First". As such their well-being will be critical in enaballing this- to have the inspiration and motivation to delivery growth. This means we are committed to managing individuals at the indiividual level, because we understand we are all different. Where possible, we will accomodate individual working practives. We believe mental illnesses should not prevent an individual from excelling. 

As a company we will not tolerate bullying, labelling, or any form of discrimination. Here we will discuss ways we encourage knowledge that will help individuals manage their own menntal health as well as help any others in a safe way, while ensuring we can deliver what is required. 

What do we mean by Mental health?

Often we think about mental health, we think about illness and images of distress come to mind. But did you know that we all have mental health, just as we have physical health? Our mental hleath impacts how we think, feel and behave. If we have good mental health, we generally feel quite good about ourselves and are able to manage the ups and downs of life - we can enjoy our relationships and make the most of our abilities. However, if we are struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings and painful experiences, it's much harder to get on with our day-today lives. 

Feeling stressed, anxious or low at times is part of the human condition

You may have heard of the "fight, flight and freeze instict". It's part of our brains alert system, and it helped us survive as a species by indenfitying threats. The difficults is that out 21st century lifestyles are dominated by 24/7 noise, such as social media. The result is that there are so many symbolic threats out there: Why did nobody "like" my post, why didnt my boss say hello, my work isn't good enough...

So when does day-today life start to become more of a problem?

This tends to happen when unhelpful thoughts and feelings become so frequent and/or intense that they start to distrupting out ability to cope with daily life, and we can't see beyond them.

We all know what it's like to be physically ill

There is a vast range of conditions that make us ill, from having a cold, or flu virus, to a broken leg, apppendicitis or diabetes. Some of of these conditions will cause us only temporary discomfort, and we'll recover intervention or ongoing support and medication. 

Mental health issues are equally wide ranging and complex

later we'll explain some of the common- and less common - mental health issues. It can be very difficult to talk about our mental health because we are afraid of being judged or misunderstood. We have been constantly told that mental health is scary and dangerous, with unhelpful images in the media, resulting in unhelpful stignam that stops us from seeking support. Thankfully, attitudes are improving thanks to campaigns like Time To Change and Heads together. 

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Our Mental Health Benefit Service 

By offering our private health employee benefit, we ensure that our employees are able to talk to professionals in complete confidence, to help them access a range of support services. These professionals will also provide recommendations to Hanson Regan, so we can support our employees recovery, and where appropriate make suitable adjustments. That might mean time off, for example, or other changes. We understand that everyones needs are unique.

Factors that can negatively impact mental health

Drugs & Alcohol

Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol affects many people. Such addictions result from changes in neural pathways, which make it extremely difficult to stop taking the substance which caused the changes in the first place. This leads to a vicous circle of increasing addiction. Also, with some substances (such as alcohol) a physiological dependence may occur- so that any attempt to stop taking the substance results in sever withdeawal symptoms. These, in some circumstances, can be fatal. 

Many workplaces include individuals at risk of becoming functioning substance takers or functioning alcohol misusers. This is particularly true in work environments where heavy drinking and drug taking cultures are associated with certain work practices. It is important to recognise and help those who may be at risk, as the long-term physical and mental health effects can be very serious. 

Phsychological trauma 

Most of us suffer traumas in life, of varying severities. In fact, they play a significant part in the formation of our personalities, as well as affect the way we interact with the world and those around us. However, some people suffer psychological traumas that cause profound distress. If the effect of the trauma is severe enough, reactive pathways within the brain can be activitated, triggering a variety of distressing symptoms akin to those we feel when under threat. As with a physical injusry, such  psychological injusry can leave "scars" with symptoms such as: 

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depressions
  • Personality Changes
  • Dissociation 
  • Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance 

The Mental health disorder most associated with trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

Common mental heallth conditions 

Here we describe, in simple terms, some of the more commonly-diagnosed mental health conditions. 

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Depression

This is the feeling of low (depressed) mood that can last for a long time, and can (negatively) affect the sufferer's approach to everyday life. It can make them feel any or all of hopeless, despairing, guilty, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect self-esteem, sleep, appetite, sex drive, and physical health. In it's mildest form, depression doesn't stop the sufferer leading a normal life but it makes things harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At it's most severe, depression can cause suicidal feelings. 

Anxiety problems

Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried tense or afraid about the (either immediate or long-term) future. Occasional feelings of anxiety are common. However, if such feelings are very strong, or last for a long time, they can become overwhelming. The sufferer may also experience phsyical symptoms, such as sleep problems and panic attacks. 

Recognised forms of anxiety disorder include GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), social anxiety (social phobia), panic disorder or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But it's also possible to experience porblems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis. 

Phobias

A phobia is an extreme form of fear or anxiety caused by a particular situation (such as going outside) or objects (such as spiders), even when it's very unlikely to be dangerous. A fear becomes a phobia if any or all of the following are true: 

a) The fear is disproportionate to the danger

b) it lasts for more than six months 

c) it has a significant impact on how the sufferer lives their life. 

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Schizophrenia 

In recent years, there has been a professional debate over whether schizophrenia is really a distinct condition, or whether it is actually a few different conditions that overlap. However, schizophrenia may still be disagnosed if the patient displays symptoms such as: 

  • Psychosis (such as hallucinations or delusions) 
  • Disorganised thinking and speeach
  • Disconnection from feelings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Wanting to avoid people
  • A lack of interest in things
  • Lack of interest in self-care

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. The term is often misused in daily conversation - it's common, for example, to hear people talk about someone being "a bit OCD", if they do something habitually or according to a strict routine. But the reality is different: actual OCD is a much more complex and serious than simply having preferences in the way you live. 

OCD has two main parts:

  • Obsessions (unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in the sufferer's mind)
  • Compulsions (repetetive activities that reduce anxiety caused by obsessions). 

Personality Disorder

This is a type of mental health problem in which attitudes, beliefs and behaviours cause longstanding problems in the life of the individual concerned. Typically, those with a personality disorder may experience difficulties with how they think about themselves and ithers, and will find it very difficult to change this way of thinking. 

There are several different types of personality disorder, but most sufferers don't fit the criteria of any single category very clearly of consisitently. Also, the term "personality disorder" can sound very judgemental. As a result "personality disorder" is a controversial diagnosis, and some psychiatrists disagree with it's use. 

Bipolar disorder 

Once know as manic depression, bipolar mainly afffects mood. Of course, everyone has variations in their mood, but in bipolar these swings can feel very extreme and have a big impact on the suferer's life. Someone with bipolar disorder is likely to experience:

a) Manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling high)

b) Depressive episodes (feeling low) 

c) Some psychotic symptoms

Bipolar disorder is also characterised by periods of stability where the individual suffers fewer symptoms. 

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What to do if you are worried about someone

Even though you are not an expert, it is important to do everything possible to recognise when someone is not doing well. You can discuss their issues with them and, if apppropriate, direct them to professional help. The Samaritans, for example, are an extremely helpful resource. 

Suicide

This is the thing everyone fears when they hear the words "mental health problem". Suicidal thoughts are a very complex issue, and there often isn't one single reason why someone wants to take thier own life. It is often the result of built-up problems to the point where they can see no other way to cope. 

As a friend or colleage, you are well-placed to notice whether someone close to you is struggling to cope, or even feeling suicidal. here are some things to look out for which may be a sign that something is wrong:

  • Recent loss or the break up of a close relationship
  • An actual and/or expected unhappy change in circumstances
  • Painful and/or disabling physical illness
  • Heavy use of, or dependanc on alcohol or other drugs
  • History of earlier suicide attempts or self-harming 
  • History of suicide int he family
  • Depression

It's not always possible to idenitfy people who are going through emotional distress. However, some of the following signs may indicate someone is in poor emotional health:

  • Lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
  • Appearing more tearful
  • Not wanting to talk or be with other people
  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
  • A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than usual
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • Appearing restless and agitated
  • Not liking or taking care of themeselves or feeling they don't matter
  • Being un-typically clumsy or accident prone
  • Becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family
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What emotional support can I offer?

When you know that someone is experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings, it's common to feel like you don't know what to do or say - but you don't need any special training to show someone you care about them. Often, just being there for someone, and doing small things, can be really valuable. For example you can: 

  • Listen: Simple giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they're feeling can be really helpful in itself. If they're finding it difficult, let them know that you're there if they need you. 
  • Offer reassurance: Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. You can reassure someone by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help. 
  • Stay calm: Even though it might be upsetting to hear that someone is distressed, try to stay calm. This will help them feel calm too.
  • Be patient: You might want to know more details about their thoughts and feelings, or want them to get help immediately. But it's important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves. 
  • Try not to make assumptions: Your prespective might be useful, but tey not to assume you already know what may have caused their feelings, or what will help. 
  • Keep contact: Part of the emotional support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. 

There are lots of practical things you can do to support someone who is ready to seek help for example:

Look for information that might be helpful: when someone is seeking help they may feel worried about making the right choice, or feel that they have no control over their situation. So helping them think about what might work for them is important. 

Help to write down lists of questions: These questions will be things that the person you're supporting will want to ask their doctor, or help them put points into an order than makes sense. 

Help organise paperwork: For example making sure the person you're helping has somewhere safe to keep their notes, prescriptions and records of appointments. 

Go to appointments with them: If they want you to go with them - even just being there in the waiting room can help someone feel reassured. 

Ask them if there is any specific practical task you could help with: For example this could include: 

  • Offering them a lift somewhere or arranging childcare for them
  • Taking over a chore or household task
  • Learn more about the problem they experience
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What can i do if someone doesn't want my help?

If you feel that someone you care about is clearly struggling but can't or won't reach out for help, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. But it's important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person. 

You can:

  • Be patent. You won't always know the full story, and there may be many reasons why they ate finding it difficult to ask for help. 
  • Ofeer emotional support and reassurance. Let them know you care about them and you'll be there if they change their mind. 
  • Inform them how to seek help when they are ready.
  • Look after yourself, and make sure you don't become unwell yourself.

You can't:

  • Force someone to talk to you. It can take time for someone to feel comfortable enough to talk openly, and putting pressure on them to talk might make them feel less comfortable telling you about their experiences. 
  • Force someone to get help (If they're over 18 and it's not an emergency situation). As adults, we are ultimately responsible for making our own decisions. This includes when - or if - we choose to seek help when we feel unwell. 
  • See a doctor for someone else. A doctor might give you general information about symptoms or diagnosis, but they won't be able to share specific advice or details about someone else without their agreement. 

How to ask for help

If you think your mental health is being adversely effected or you are suffering from stress as a result of your employement, then you should seek a confidential meeting with your head of HR (or similar). Here at Hanson Regan we would offer time to explore options unofficially, so the individual can decide how they would like to go forward, or work out an action plan before it becomes a major issue. 

External Employee Support

At Hanson Regan our employee helpline is available 24/7 and provides access to an employee counselling service which offers professional support and advice on a range of issues including (but not limited to):

  • Emotional problems
  • Stress
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Bereavement 
  • Family difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Debt
  • Medical Matters
  • Legal Advice

In Case of Emergency 

For emergency medical attention, please go to your local A&E, obtain an emergency GP appointment, or call 999. 

Resources

Chairty services:

Samaritans: For listening service 24/7 Call 116 123

Papyrus: Call 0800 068 41 41

Camapign against living miserably: Call 0800 58 58 58

Organisations:

How to be mentally healthy at work - Mind e-book: This includes managing stress and conflict at work and what to do if you're being bullied. 

Work Place Mental Health

National and local mental health charities e.g. Mind and drop-in safe havents - Hub of hope

And a big thank you to Demolish the Wall for their workshop and handbook on Mental health and well-being.