The months of lockdown have had a huge impact on us all. With the ongoing restrictions and uncertainty that we continue to face, and the added strain of shorter days and worsening weather, the impact and stresses are unlikely to lessen over the coming months.
One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic is how it has affected our mental health. According to research by Mind, more than half of adults (60%) said their mental health has got worse during lockdown: many developing new mental health problems as a result of the pandemic and for some, existing mental health problems have gotten worse.
Mental well-being describes how we are feeling and how well we are coping with day-to-day life. We all have mental health and however resilient we think we are, it’s important to remember that our mental well-being can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month or year to year.
Carrying the Burden
To link with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, throughout October Leeds Mind are asking their supporters to carry an item of their choosing for a full 24 hours in recognition of the invisible burden that a mental health difficulty can represent.
Our mental health is like our physical health — everybody has it and we need to take care of it — but as the ‘Carry the Burden’ initiative suggests, mental health continues to be something that is less frequently spoken about or openly acknowledged.
As line managers we have a responsibility for promoting well-being ‘at work’ and there are many things that we could and should be doing to support the individuals and teams we work with, such as:
- Proactively managing communication: keeping in touch regularly with all members of our team, wherever their current place of work may be, and checking in on the person not just their work; scheduling regular 1-1s and team meetings (with video where possible) and encouraging individuals to speak out and start the conversation talking about how they’re feeling and coping; encouraging individuals to develop their own social networks with colleagues — a peer support network; taking care to ensure interactions are managed with sensitivity and consideration.
- Encouraging balance: encouraging individuals to establish a clear work-life balance to ensure they do not develop unhealthy working habits; discouraging ‘presenteeism’ — if someone is working from home they shouldn’t continue working if they are unwell just because their ‘workplace’ is easily accessible; encouraging employees to develop daily routines, to eat a healthy and balanced diet, to incorporate exercise and fresh air of some kind into their day.
- Signposting resources for mental health and well-being support: making sure your team are aware of what information and support is available from within your organisation (for example an Employee Assistance Programme); signposting the many free resources that are available from a variety of organisations, for example Mind, Time to Change and the CIPD.
Despite our best efforts and however strong we believe our relationships are with the people in our teams, individuals may not always feel comfortable talking to us about their mental health, feelings or well-being concerns. Because of the uncertainty of what the future may hold and concerns for their job security, it may feel too great a risk to be open and honest about how they’re coping with the person they see as having influence over how their performance is perceived. So how can we ensure that individuals do have the opportunity to unburden themselves of their concerns and anxieties?
Support mental health through coaching
Whether they have a mental health problem or not, individuals need to take care of their mental health and well-being. However, making positive change can seem too big a challenge and it can be hard to know where to start. Especially so in uncertain times and when ‘at work’ means a whole host of variables and different stresses as a result of the pandemic.
There are lots of practical steps individuals can take to improve and maintain their well-being, including:
- Relaxing and reducing stress
- Finding ways to learn and be creative
- Spending time in nature
- Connecting with others
- Looking after our physical health
- Trying to get enough sleep
Whilst it’s easy enough to read the list, it’s not always easy to know how to get started or to figure out what works for you.
As mentioned, the line manager and even a peer support network have a role to play in providing opportunities for individuals to share ideas and experiences. However, this support may not always be seen as being neutral and without hidden agendas.
An alternative is to provide access to an independent or offline coach who can provide a non-judgemental reflective space to help individuals to take control over their own situation and put their concerns and anxieties into perspective. Being able to have a one-to-one dialogue with someone whose sole focus is to help the individual manage the transitions and changes they are facing is an invaluable resource to support individuals in improving and maintaining their mental health and well-being. And mentally healthy individuals are more likely to be productive and focused on achieving their goals.
The change in circumstances we find ourselves in, the uncertainty and continuing restrictions are all challenges that are likely to affect an individual’s performance. Coaching is a practical and cost effective way to provide support for individuals to help them find their way, be productive and maintain good mental health.
If coaching is something that forms part of the developmental offering in your organisation currently, the importance of encouraging individuals to take advantage of their coaching relationship to gain additional support is key. If coaching is something that you haven’t yet introduced into your organisation, it’s something that is well worth considering now, probably more so than ever before.
For World Mental Health Day on 10th October 2020, Mind is encouraging us to “Do one thing for Better Mental Health”. Could this be offering one-to-one coaching support to individuals within your organisation?
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