In the second part of our mental health article from Insurance Recruitment specialists Hillman Saunders, Paul Crothall discusses what he feels are the best ways both Insurance professionals and companies can support their colleagues who suffer from mental health illness. You can read Paul’s first blog by clicking here.
1. Visibly provide information from mental health charities
At present, companies do a great job of putting digital information relating to mental health on the intranet and on small business cards. I think we could go one better by making this information active not passive – so rather than it only being available to people that seek it, we can show it to people before they even think they have a problem, and to raise awareness. By this I mean having support information posters in communal areas such as common rooms and kitchens. On the intranet, put a direct link on the front page – instead of having to click through a number of pages – not just on World Mental Health Day.
There are many great charities and lots of information/resources available from them. One of my favourites is a booklet I received from Rethink Mental Illness at a talk organised by the CII. It is called SOS – Your Starter Guide to Mental Illness and is a great tool to keep handy. Mine is in my rucksack, which I always have on me during the working week.
2. Encourage individuals to reach out to their colleagues
Too often, people can see there might be a problem with a colleague but don’t know what to do. So they do nothing. Companies now are taking great strides to encourage people to ask each other if they’re OK, and to foster an environment where people feel safe to reply that they’re not. It can be as simple as asking someone quietly if they’d like a quick chat over a cup of tea, or (as many people are discovering now) there are some wonderful mental health training courses we can all go on. Every employer provides first aid and fire marshal training. Why not have mental health first aid training at the same time? Once completed, these people can wear lanyards and have green dog stickers on their computers to tell others that they’re trained to listen and assist.
3. Create activities to foster inclusiveness
Team bonding can be wonderful for morale but very often they are outside of work hours or put financial expectation on participants. If your illness is triggered by your obligation at home or money pressures, you simply can’t attend – only making you feel even further out of the loop.If companies created them within work hours – whether it be a group exercise, literally group exercise (going for a walking meeting for example), or a working lunch with sandwiches, it would really help nullify the reasons why people can say no.
4. Pointing people in the right direction
If you are struggling and you reach out to a colleague or your company, they need to tell you to seek help, and know where to send you. Most companies nowadays provide a GP service – ours at BMS is the Rood Lane medical centre – and making people aware of this or similar referral points is key to making feel like they don’t need to suffer in silence. It also means you can book an appointment in town rather than racing against time to get to an evening appointment back where you live.
5. Introduce mindfulness, meditation and gratitude
Companies are taking great strides introducing lunch and learns, where they invite outside practitioners to come in and teach things like mindfulness, meditation and gratitude. It’s up to the individual to practise in their own time, but it just provides other options if you’re pushed for time or looking for alternative ways to wind down. Most employers provide employees with free or subsidised gym memberships to encourage healthy lifestyles and reduce absenteeism. Think of these mental exercises/practices as a gym membership for the mind and it’s free to do! I have recently downloaded a gratitude app on my phone to remind me to practice this daily.
I believe that exercise or at least some form of physical activity is the foundation of good mental health and it is medically proven to reduce stress. Companies should therefore encourage it wherever possible – most already do with things like the cycle to work scheme. As mentioned above, this can be taken one step further with things like walking team meetings, a group office run or something similarly active. For me, my running days are gone so I really enjoy martial arts classes after work with my family. Perhaps inviting providers of extra-curricular activities to present or having a place where they can advertise is a logical first step. If there is sufficient space, maybe club together to get a trainer into the office at lunchtimes. Perhaps there is a colleague who is trained to provide exercise classes (for example, yoga/pilates/step aerobic instructors, etc.)?
7. The Great Outdoors
I mentioned Mindfulness above – where you’re taught to be present in the moment rather than thinking about things too far ahead or behind – which helps to calm a busy mind. It’s the same method they teach to alcoholics: just to be sober today rather than setting yourself a long term target. One thing that is great to live in the moment of is nature – enjoying the sunlight and everything the world has to offer. After all, enjoying life doesn’t get much better than taking in the sights, smells and sounds for all your senses.
8. Do something new or something you used to enjoy
Sometimes we need to remind the brain of what makes us happy or stimulate it into that same emotion. For me, I was a keen fisherman in my youth and it’s something I am looking to get back into now. Yours might equally be a new language, the theatre, cinema, comedy or running – the list is literally endless.
9. Helping each other
One good idea is to encourage people who are non sufferers to assist those that are. By this I mean some form of informal buddy system, whereby people with anxiety for example – who might find it difficult to go to medical appointment – are accompanied by someone else. It really is that simple. This could be expanded to giving them a break at home, going round to help them babysit or fixing things in the house and so on. Just as important is to just be there, listen without judgement and let them know you are there for them.
Similarly, sufferers should be encouraged to help others – doing things such as volunteering. This gives people a sense of purpose as it makes you feel really good helping others.
10. Wellness days
BMS do some fantastic wellness days where we have massages, given information on nutrition, smoothie making classes and so on – all things that help improve us mentally and physically. It’s a great team bonding exercise too so it’s something I really would encourage.
There were times, when on exercise with the TA, that we were deprived of sleep – maybe only getting a few hours total sleep over 2-3 nights whilst also undertaking some arduous physical activities (such as long marches with full kit; practicing section/platoon/battalion attacks; night time reconnaissance and ambushes, etc.). This was done to test and prepare our minds and bodies for the rigours of war should we ever need to be called up. It was hard but necessary training.
Thankfully, most of us will not need to do this so make sure you are getting quality and correct amount of sleep. Recommended hours vary by resource but is often quoted as between 7-9 hours. However, they all say that electronic devices should be avoided for at least an hour before going to bed and that we should aim to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
To wrap up this blog, you may recall that BMS has been doing some wonderful work and undertaken some amazing initiatives to improve the wellbeing of our staff. One of the things they do is to hold seasonal events covering a range of activities, from Mental Health Resilience Workshops to mindfulness training and nutritional information. Please feel free to contact me, via Hillman Saunders, if you would like some information about this on firstname.lastname@example.org.