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Why think about mental health first aid in the workplace?

We know we talk about mental health first aid in the workplace a lot, but it is increasingly important for businesses to make sure they are doing everything they can to look after their employee’s mental health. Here’s why.

Improve productivity

Staff suffering with mental health conditions may find it hard to focus and carry out day-to-day activities. There has also been a rise in presenteeism, particularly in 18-29 year olds, where employees will not take time off to deal with mental illness and will instead continue to work either at a poorer level or until they burnout completely.

Mental health conditions that are not dealt with early on can lead to more severe situations where employees end up taking extended time off.

In 2019/2020 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health, according to the HSE’s Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain report 2020.

A mental health first aider is equipped to spot when someone is showing signs of depression, stress or anxiety and can step in before it becomes a problem that has a huge impact on their day-to-day productivity.

Improve staff morale

Someone suffering with a mental health condition like anxiety or paranoia may cause them to doubt themselves, take criticism personally, and need constant approval for even minor tasks – none of which is good for the overall staff morale. By having Mental Health First Aiders in your business, you can spot when people are struggling with anxiety and put practices or processes in place to improve their self-esteem and support their mental health.

Save money

It is estimated that poor mental health at work costs the UK economy up to £70bn each year. This is because untreated mental health conditions lead to poor productivity, presenteeism, absenteeism and high staff turnover.

However, research conducted by Deloitte found that businesses who invest in supporting employee mental health get an average of £5 back for for every £1 spent on things like Mental Health First Aid training, Employee Assistance Programmes and other mental health training.

Attract and retain top talent

While only 42% of employers believe that workplace mental health strategies are important to job hunters, research has shown that 88% of professionals consider it when searching for new roles.

Research has also shown that mental health support at work is vital when it comes to keeping staff. Businesses who actively look after their employee’s mental health could retain 78% of 18-24-year-olds who leave, 42% of their overall workforce and 25% of their critical staff. (Source)

Investing in employee mental health will help your business grow and make sure that employees enjoy working for you. Get started with our Mental Health First Aid training.

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For more support with mental health strategies in your workplace, get in touch with our team.

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Help with Health Anxiety

Health anxiety (or hypochondria) is when you become obsessed with the idea that you are – or will be – physically ill. Worrying about your health can lead you to miss out on experiences in your life and even develop physical symptoms.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable to be more aware and wary of physical illnesses – however if you are experiencing so much anxiety about your health that you are struggling to focus on anything else, you may want to consider seeking help.

Health anxiety symptoms

You may be struggling with health anxiety if you:

  • Visit/call your GP regularly
  • Worry that medical tests and doctor’s examinations may miss something wrong with you
  • Frequently check yourself for signs of serious illness and self-diagnose
  • Constantly worry about your physical health
  • Obsessively research health information online
  • Avoid reading, watching or listening to things that talk about physical illnesses (e.g. medical dramas, case studies, etc)
  • Live your life as if you were ill even when you’re not – taking sick days, avoiding physical activity, not travelling far from home

Physical symptoms of health anxiety

Health anxiety can also manifest in several physical symptoms brought on by continuous stress and worrying, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic attacks
  • Dry mouth
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Aching body and muscles

Help with health anxiety

There are a few different ways you can manage your health anxiety

  • Write down and challenge your thoughts – rather than letting worries build in your mind, jot them down along with some reasons why they might not be true e.g. “I’m getting lots of headaches which means there’s something wrong with me” leads to “headaches are often a sign of stress” which in turn leads you to question what’s causing stress and address it.
  • Keep busy – when you feel the urge to check yourself or research illnesses, go for a walk or do an activity that keeps your mind distracted.
  • Face your fears – if there’s a part of your life you’ve been avoiding (such as exercise or travel), start to introduce these back into your routine to gradually become more comfortable doing them and teach your brain that these activities aren’t dangerous.
  • Talk to someone about your health anxiety – talk to a friend, your workplace mental health first aider or use services like our Breathe Café Online to get support from trained volunteers.
  • Talk to a professional – if these self-help ideas don’t work to relieve your health anxiety over time, contact a GP or mental health professional for more support.

 

Anxiety of any kind is debilitating. It can destroy productivity and takes the joy out of life.

At Shawmind, we’re here to help you enjoy your life and perform at your best through support groups, mental health training and professional advice.

GROUPS

TRAINING

GUIDES

 

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BreatheUni: What are Toxic Relationships and How to Deal with Them?

By Anisa D., MSc Health Psychology Student & Nazia U., MSc Psychology Student and Volunteers

 

Toxic relationships are broadly defined as ones that are repetitive, mutually destructive and have unhealthy patterns that cause more harm than good for both parties. Toxic relationships can be with friends, family and/or your partner.

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BreatheUni: 5 Steps to Combat Loneliness

By Mariam G., BSc Psychology and Counselling Student and Volunteer

 

The Office for National Statistics stated that in April-May 2020, around 2.6 million people reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”, and around 7.4 million adults said that their well-being has been affected as a result of feeling lonely.

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BreatheUni: Friendships and Feeling Lonely at University

Bianca R., MSc Psychology Student and Volunteer

 

It has been one year since the first UK lockdown, and national restrictions are still in place. No university student could have foreseen what the past 12 months of their academic career and university experience have looked like. Whether you

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BreatheUni: Depression and Coping

By Anna P., MSc Psychology and Shania Z., BSc Psychology Students and Volunteers

 

Depression
We have all felt negative emotions, whether that’s sadness, anger, anxiety or frustration. These emotions come in waves and some days can be worse than others.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you are feeling down or feeling depressed?
Depression is a

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Children and teachers must be given the opportunity to tell their stories…

After a second period of Covid lockdown, seeing children being educated at home and online for nearing 3 months, schools began to unlock on Monday 8th March.  Of course, schools have remained open to support the learning of vulnerable children and children of key workers throughout both lockdowns, but it is the return of all children to school that has caused concern amongst the teaching profession and reminders of the previous return to school potentially being the catalyst for a spiralling of Covid cases nationally.

This unlocking of schools has been paralleled with repeated rhetoric from the DfE and the Secretary of State about just how vital it is that children ‘catch up’ on missed learning with the notion that children are falling behind being a key driver for the wider opening of schools and a simultaneous refusal to budge on the idea that teachers should be vaccinated ahead of the unlocking of schools. Such activity and discourse leading to media headlines social media discourse around the safety of children returning en masse to their school settings and no doubt increased anxiety and concern for children, parents and teachers alike for a variety of reasons.

The rush for children to ‘catch up’ has led to schools receiving money from the DfE (note this is not significant and is less than the loss many schools have suffered in the movement of the funding window for Pupil Premium) to pay for additional tutoring for children to make sure they catch up as soon as possible has been mirrored by schools spending time to devise and share a new ‘catch-up curriculum’, assessing newly formed gaps and re-arranging their curricular to plug these gaps.  A new requirement exists to share such approaches on the school website!

Something that has been missing from these messages is who are the children trying to catch up with?  Surely, if everyone is behind then there is no one in front?  This is something that the DfE seems to misunderstand.

The push for a catch up totally misses the point and shows a distinct lack of understanding about how children develop and learn.  It is an indisputable fact that children have been away from school for a long time over the past year, and that this will result in them being unable to be taught the content of the curriculum at the pace at which teachers have to march through it.  But to focus on academic catch up is not an immediate priority, we would argue, and we are sure that many school teachers and leaders would agree, that re-socialisation and re-integration into the school community is the most important focus.

Children have been away from friends and teachers for a significant amount of time, with some not being able to engage face to face with anyone of their age range at all.  They need to get used to doing this once again.  Teachers may find that the children returning to school are not the same children as those who left for their Christmas holidays.  Each child has had a unique experience of lockdown; some more positive than others.  Children will be returning to school with differing needs, be physically different having potentially lacked exercise and movement over the time at home, with some often not getting out of bed or off the sofa for hours on end and may struggle to sit at a desk for long periods of time initially.  Some children will have suffered illness, trauma and bereavement during their time in lockdown in a variety of situations and circumstances with such experiences increasing levels of anxiety and negative mental health.

Wellbeing and mental health are the first priorities upon the children’s return, academic catch up is secondary to this.  Making time and creating space for children to tell their stories is vital. There are many stories and these should be allowed, and encouraged to be told as part of children’s coming to terms with their experiences.

Of course, it is not only the children who will return to school with stories and experiences. The teachers themselves will have had their own lockdown experiences to deal with: challenging working spaces, home schooling, illness, bereavement…. all having an impact on teacher mental health and wellbeing. It is the role of school leaders to make spaces and time available to hear the stories of their staff and support them as they transition back to whole class teaching in the continuing pandemic situation, still many being unvaccinated.

But in the telling of these stories, teachers and school leaders must refrain from seeing just the negative impacts of the lockdown on their children and explore and celebrate the positives, of which there are quite a few.  Many children have had the opportunity of enjoying time with their family and re-connecting with parents and siblings.  There are so many photos and posts around children utilising the allowance to exercise by taking walks and bike rides and spending time in nature, something that they often do not make, or have the time for when in school, especially with the dark winter mornings and evenings.  We have seen multiple posts from children and schools around the amazing work that children have been undertaking at home and in their communities; creative projects, arts and cookery, with children learning and developing new skills that will help them as they move forward into their lives.

It is now over to schools to acknowledge the positives that the children bring as well as ensuring that the children’s wellbeing and mental health is supported through ensuring that mental health is threaded through the curriculum and that there are spaces and opportunities to monitor, talk about and support children’s mental health.

It is over to school leaders to ensure that the pressures of academic catch up and reporting does not significantly add to the stresses and workload of a profession already at breaking point.  School leaders must take this opportunity to pause and reflect upon the practices introduced and undertaken during this pandemic and the lockdown periods assessing the elements that were most challenging and need to return to ‘normal’ but also embracing and continuing with the elements and practices that had to be introduced but have seen improvement and benefits to the working lives of teachers and the experiences of the school community.  PPA at home, a significant reduction in the number of meetings, a change in the approach and regularity of lesson observation and monitoring and the possibility of more flexible working.

The teaching profession must seize this moment.  This moment to reflect on the positive changes that they wish to make, the practices that they want to keep and the practice and processes that can improve teacher workload, wellbeing and mental health.

Teachers and leaders must also seize this moment where children have through not being able to attend school, seen the true value of that place called school; not simply as a place to earn ‘stuff’ but the holistic value that school brings to their lives.

Alongside this, we must seize this moment when parents have had first-hand experience of just how challenging teaching children is and parents who have seen how hard teachers work, the knowledge and skills they possess in order to educate our children.

But most of all we must seize this moment to re-align the priorities of our schools to take an honest look at the impact that the dominant education culture and system has had upon the mental health and wellbeing of its children and its teachers.  We have the moment now. We must act on this positively and bravely to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

Catherine Carden is Faculty Director of Learning & Teaching, Canterbury Christchurch University. She writes in her personal capacity.

 

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Signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace

 

Anxiety is a normal response to worrying situations and everyone is likely to feel moments of anxiety in their lives. However, when feelings of anxiety persist it can be hard for someone to control their worries and live their lives as normal.

Knowing what signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace can help you to a) support someone in their time of need and b) prevent the anxiety from deteriorating into other mental health conditions.

Mental health conditions overall can be hard to spot since they affect people’s thoughts and emotions – however there are a number of physical and behavioural signs that might signal someone you work with is struggling with anxiety.

Signs of anxiety in the workplace:

  • Taking unusual amounts of time off work
  • Increased pessimism and lack of enthusiasm
  • Seeking constant approval and reassurance from managers and/or peers
  • Struggling to meet deadlines
  • Overreacting to comments or situations
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Change in eating habits
  • Forgetfulness

What can you do if you think someone is struggling with anxiety

Mental Health First Aid

If your workplace has a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), this is a great person to mention your concerns to. Mental Health First Aiders have been trained to spot the signs of common mental health conditions in those around them but if they don’t work closely with the person affected they might miss them.

The MHFA can then start a conversation with the person to understand why they’re struggling and what next steps need to be taken.

Mental Health First Aiders are not currently a legal requirement for businesses but they have significant benefits.

Want to become a Mental Health First Aider?

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Start a conversation

If your workplace does not yet have a Mental Health First Aider, you can start a conversation with the person who is struggling yourself. Often, the stigma attached to mental health prevents those suffering from reaching out for help – so by initiating the conversation yourself you may encourage them to open up. If you have a story of your own that you’re comfortable sharing this can be a great way to further reduce the stigma and encourage them to talk.

However, not everyone will want to talk to you so be careful to push or put pressure on them to open up. Simply let them know you’re there if they want to talk.

Ensure they take breaks

Anxiety can make people dwell on the negative parts of their life or job which only triggers more anxiety. So a good way to combat this is to help people take breaks to remove themselves from the anxiety triggers and focus on the things they enjoy.

It can be hard to enforce breaks at work, especially if it’s busy so you might want to try encouraging people to spend more time on the things they enjoy rather than trying to get them to spend less time dwelling on the bad. E.g. if the person enjoys reading, you could set up a book club amongst your colleagues to encourage more time reading outside of work rather than simply telling the person to stop thinking about the negative parts of their day.

Go for walks together

The effect that a walk outdoors can have on a person is amazing. The physical activity of walking (or doing any exercise) releases chemicals in the body that reduce stress, anxiety and depression while being outdoors has a whole raft of similar benefits triggered by increased daylight and exposure to plants.

Going on these walks together also ensures that the person will take a break from their day to do it as you’re holding them accountable. You may even find that they open up to you about their mental health during these walks being out of the office environment and away from their triggers.

Encourage them to seek support

If someone you work with is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional or organisation like Shawmind. Getting the right advice as early as possible can prevent mental health issues from deteriorating into a life-threatening situation.

There are several mental health organisations that offer a variety of services depending on a person’s needs. At Shawmind we have a Whatsapp number that anyone can use to get support alongside a selection of support groups including our Breathe Café and ManCave.

Important: you are not responsible for making sure a person seeks mental health support. All you can do signpost appropriate services and then leave it up to the individual to take it further.

Everyone is likely to struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. Let’s make sure your business is able to help your employees when they’re struggling. Want more advice about looking after mental health in your workplace? Book onto one of our mental health training sessions or get in touch.

 

 

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What does mental health first aid training cover?

This April is Stress Awareness Month. With 55% of sick days in 2019/20 being directly attributable to workplace-related stress, anxiety and depression*, we wanted to look at one of the best ways to provide workplace support: by having mental health first aiders in your organisation.

To become a mental health first aider (MHFA) you need to attend an accredited course, there are several to choose from.

But what do you cover in mental health first aid training?

Knowledge of Mental Health Challenges

The first step to being able to help those in your organisation with their mental health is to have a thorough knowledge of the various mental health challenges that people face. Understanding exactly what mental health issues employees are struggling with (e.g. stress, anxiety or depression) can help you to build trust and provide appropriate support.

What factors affect mental health

Understanding what factors affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing can not only help you anticipate when someone is likely to be struggling based on their environment, but it can also help you to take preventative measures to protect their mental wellbeing in the first place. If you knew that the workforce was about to become stressed because of certain factors like deadlines or personal commitments – wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to help them?

Identifying signs of mental health struggles

Not everyone will feel confident enough to come to you when they are struggling with their mental health so you must know what signs to look out for. By being on the lookout for these signs you can reach out to people who haven’t yet talked to you and implement tactics in the workplace to protect their mental health from deteriorating further.

How to support someone struggling with mental health

Once you’ve identified that someone in the workplace is struggling with their mental health, a large part of your role as a mental health first aider is to provide initial support and guidance. In mental health first aid training, you’ll learn how to best support individuals based on the mental health challenges they are struggling with. You will also learn about the mental health first aid action plan that you can follow for each individual who needs help with their mental health, and how to work with your colleagues to develop a workplace wellbeing plan.

Enhanced interpersonal skills

Being a mental health first aider in the workplace requires you to have strong interpersonal skills such as non-judgemental listening. This course will help you develop those skills so that your employees and/or colleagues feel comfortable talking to you about their mental health and so that you feel confident providing support.

Resources & support for individuals

As a mental health first aider, you are the first point for support and guidance. For complex or long term mental health conditions you will likely need to signpost individuals to professional resources and support services such as helplines, GPs or private therapies. During your mental health first aid training, you will be educated about the various resources that are out there and when they would be the most appropriate next step for those in your workplace. These may also be guided by your company’s wellbeing policies.

How to look after your own mental health in your MHFA role

The adage “you cannot look after anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself” rings true for mental health first aiders too. ‘Everyone has mental health’ is one of the first things you learn on the MHFA course. Just like physical health. As a mental health first aider you will be taking on the challenges that everyone else in your organisation is facing which can be emotionally draining and stressful on top of your regular work responsibilities. Our mental health first aid training will teach you how to manage your own mental health and wellbeing while carrying out your MHFA role.

 

Want to become a mental health first aider? Book onto our next training

 

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BreatheUni: Tackling Burnout

By Patricia D. and Lauren T., MSc Health Psychology Students and Shawmind Volunteers

What is burnout?

We’re starting to hear this term more and more – burnout. But what even is it? Burnout can essentially be described as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Basically, burnout happens to individuals who tend to overwork themselves.

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