By Ellie Gray.

Nobody will be surprised to hear that over the last year, more people than ever before have been struggling with their mental health. According to the ONS, almost one in five of us were likely to be experiencing some form of depression in June 2020. Before the pandemic, this figure was at less than 10% – the charity Mind have declared this a mental health emergency. This increase, coupled with the persistent stigma around discussing mental health, means that it’s still extremely difficult to talk about our emotions and struggles while at work.

There are many reasons why someone might not feel able to open up about mental health at work. A key barrier and something I have to admit has held me back, is the fear that admitting a weakness may halt your career progression or make you seem less capable. We need to do everything we can to reassure our colleagues that the only repercussions of speaking up will be support and understanding. At Kinetic, our Mental Health Allies are working to normalise these conversations and tackle the stigma head-on through educational initiatives and starting conversations within teams to slowly encourage everyone to start opening up. Our latest project is to try and encourage our managers and senior leaders to be brave and take the first step in starting difficult conversations. We are encouraging them to take a step back and make a conscious and consistent effort to check in with their teams and anyone they think might be having a hard time. It can be so easy to overlook someone who is quiet or has their video off on weekly calls but this can be a sign they are struggling and need some support. By challenging our leaders to reach out and dig a little deeper, we are hoping employees will start to open up and admit when they aren’t coping.

We’re lucky at Kinetic to have a senior leadership team that fully embraces all of our Mental Health Allies initiatives, as their backing and involvement lets us demonstrate this is a core company value. I believe that having a top-down approach in any organisation should quickly bring this change into a company’s culture and start to remove the taboo.

But what if you are worried about a teammate and aren’t a leader, is it still your place to check-in with them? Maybe you have noticed they are demotivated, withdrawn or absent-minded, and you think they could use some support. The most important thing to do, is to do something. Don’t just wait and see if they get better because the only thing they will learn is how to better hide their emotions. Reach out to them in whichever way seems most natural – a text or a call will open the door for them to start talking and be able to share their feelings. A great strategy is to share your own vulnerability first. It can be really intimidating to be the first person to open up, especially to someone more senior than you, but if you start that conversation with your own honesty, that can really break the ice.

I’m hopeful that the recent pandemic will have led to more open conversations about mental health as that has definitely been my experience. This could be the result of more people experiencing mental health difficulties though and even more support being needed. Either way, we need to remember that the stigma does still exist, people are still intimidated to reach out and be vulnerable, and having to work virtually makes all of this harder. But, by giving someone the opportunity to open up, even if they don’t choose to take it, we are normalising these conversations one step at a time. There is a lot more work to be done but we can all make a difference by picking up the phone and checking in.

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