I had the privilege of attending a CIPR Inside event last week on the topic of mental health in the workplace and the role of internal comms professionals. It was an insightful evening with fantastic direction from Jo Hooper, founder of the Mad and Sad Club, and left me with a lot of questions and challenges about how we combat the topic of mental health at work.
Mental health could be a considered a bit of a ‘trend’ for 2019. In some ways that’s great as it’s brought the topic into a place where celebrities speak freely, with a lot said. But in other ways it can feel superficial, with policies and Instagram posts feeling more like plasters for the problem than a solution or support. With a group of like-minded PR peers, we listened to Jo and posed questions about how, when we spend more than 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime, we can do the best we can to support mental health. But whose responsibility is it?
You could argue we are all responsible for our own mental health. We know ourselves the best, therefore in theory we should be able to identify the changes happening within us and actively do something to seek help or make a change. But it’s never that simple. We’re too close, we can’t see our actions and behaviours objectively and when your decision making is already clouded with mental health challenges and rational thinking to seek help is often the first ability to be lost. Although we each have a role in observing, and learning about, our own mental health, we can’t be solely reliant on ourselves to seek help for it in the midst of a tough time.
Our family and friends
Family relationships and friendships can be drastically different for each of us. For some, you may be close either physically living together or regularly catching up. For others, you could be distant in both location or in emotion. We all have a different home set up with different people in and out of our lives and for those who have a stable, constant support network this is a feasible option for support and guidance. But again, it’s not the sole source. A number of mental health difficulties are believed to be genetic, meaning that if your family are supporting you, they could well be also having to support a parent, sibling or relative with similar needs, putting a strain on resources and relationships. For others, a major trigger of mental health lapses may be the family themselves, so the idea of then seeking help from them could simply make matters worse. For those who have this network, it can be a golden opportunity for help, but again we can’t assume all situations are the same.
Your line manager/boss may well be the person that sees you most and knows you best in a workplace setting. If they are physically present in your office or area, you may well see them every day and, depending on your set up, you may have regular catch ups and meetings together. They are also the person with a vested interest in your performance and are arguably more in tune if your behaviour alters or output changes because it has direct implications on their own day-to-day. With that level of frequency, insight and investment it’s not a ridiculous idea to consider it up to line managers to take responsibility for their staff and their mental health. But what if you work in an environment where that isn’t the case? What if your boss is purely that in name or you work in a different location (sometimes in a different country!)? Or similarly to your family and friends, what if your line manager is an aggravator for your mental health? It’s again a noble idea with valid opportunities, but it’s beginning to seem impossible to rely on one person bringing us to…
Our Human Resources Dept.
HR is often the go-to place for employees for professional support, pensions and personal benefits. It seems the perfect fit for mental health needs as well right? We talked briefly about the provisions that organisations, often through HR, can provide to their employees such as helplines and resources. But the risk of solely relying on HR is that it can be a tick-box service provision (“here you go, now off you go”) or that it is a reactive role. It’s great that HR are there if you identify a problem as they might have some solutions, but they may well not be actively checking on you and your mental welfare proactively. And that’s where the kicker in all this.
All of the above
The conclusion of the evening: our mental health care and welfare doesn’t fall in to one person’s responsibility, but a responsibility of us all. As much as we must care for ourselves (and ultimately will be responsible for seeking help for ourselves), we also have a duty to each other. Jo phrased it perfectly when she said:
“You don’t need to be trained or a qualified professional to have a human conversation and help someone – signing a pledge and having a policy means nothing if people don’t know how to support one another as human beings”Jo Hooper, Mad and Sad Club
The risk of making it one person, or department’s, responsibility is that others then consider it a pass for them, that they don’t have to worry about it or ‘meddle’ in it. That’s where we’re doing each other a disservice. We all have a part to play in caring for one another, regardless of how we know each other or the circumstances of our relationship. If I see a loved one or a colleague suffering, I’m not going to divert them on. I’m going to act, even if it’s just asking them how I can help. Jo was brilliant for bringing it back to such a simple level: it’s about being human. As organisations, and especially in communications, we certainly have a role to play and it’s a role I take seriously. But my aim is to encourage us all to be better humans by talking and caring for each other, not finding somewhere to pass the buck.
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do”Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility)