Mental Health: why charity needs to start at work

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In the UK, one in four people will experience a mental health issue in a given year. In our industry, the number is even higher at one in three. In a world where we are always on, never separated by more than a few metres or minutes from emails, social media and all of our beloved technology, finding time to step away and have a break can feel impossible.

As a 'mental health first aider' at RPM, I know how difficult it can be to switch off and how hard it can be to start an open discussion about mental health.

If we cannot find a time to de-stress, look after our well-being and have honest conversations about mental health, the statistics will keep rising, and mental health charities will face even higher levels of demand than they already do. We all need to take action immediately to prioritise well-being – physical and mental – or we will face an even greater problem.

Acknowledging mental health at work is critical

Introducing mental health first aiders into the office creates a safe and supportive working environment. The role splits in two; the first part of the role is as a listener – if anyone needs to talk about struggles they are facing, there is someone for them to talk to and to help them to seek advice. Depending on the situation, this could be a variety of different things but would often involve putting them in touch with some of the fantastic charities who are working in this space and could get them the help they need.

The second part of the role is to promote well-being throughout the company and take small positive steps to help sufferers early, preventing more severe mental health issues from developing. An employer investing in an initiative like mental health first aiders sends an important signal – that it is OK to struggle, OK to prioritise your well-being, and OK to talk about mental health at work.

According to Time to Change’s ‘Attitudes to Mental Illness’ report 2014, only 40% of people said they would be comfortable talking to their employer about a mental health problem, with 48% saying they would feel uncomfortable. This needs to change. We spend the majority of our lives at work. It needs to become a place where vocalising mental health and well-being is normal, and the fear of stigma and adverse consequences of raising these issues are things of the past.

It is only in the last century that we have seen British culture make an effort to understand mental health. However, we still have to make huge leaps to break the taboo.

Contributing to charity does not necessarily mean donating or even working directly with an appeal. Selecting a problem that charities are tackling and working on dealing with that problem from home will make an enormous difference to those companies in the long run. Charities working in the realm of mental health will benefit from teams approaching it in the workplace – problems are picked up earlier, so people get the help they need from the NHS or charities sooner.

Charity starts at home – or, in this case, at work. Think outside the box when it comes to dealing with this topic, and remember that the little things make a difference. After all, if we can prevent the need for charities to provide a person with care, that is the problem solved. We need to prevent issues together and can all be a part of making that happen, as individuals, employers and industry.

We just need to start now.

Imogen Almond is new business and marketing executive at RPM.

This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.

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