Small steps make a big difference to mental health


October is Mental Health Month, and this year, mental health has special significance.

It has been some decades since the assault on our collective mental health has been as profound as it is now.

This year has been tumultuous, a year in which we have experienced threat and fear, compromised freedom, oppression based on race and a myriad of other existential issues. Many of us are doing it tough.

The erasure of stigma, and the resultant willingness to seek help when we need it, is a journey—one in which we’ve made positive strides in the right direction.

Striding further requires candour and plainness in the way we think and talk about mental health.

I will share with you parts of our staff journey since March this year, and the impact of the current situation on our collective mental health.

It is a layperson’s perspective and as a result, deliberately devoid of science—I will leave that to people more qualified than I am.

This is a CEO’s perspective on organisational mental health and the things we can do to help.

I have learned that some parts of the way we experience a crisis are universal, others are very personal and unique. I don’t think anyone would say that 2020 has been their best year.

But while some of us have coped with the ‘inconveniences’ of this year relatively well, others have faced significant struggles.

Working from home is not conducive to reading body language and having an intuitive sense of how someone is doing, so you have to make the effort to ask ‘are you okay?’ The answers might surprise you.

I’ve learned that personal circumstances and living arrangements, such as whether a person is living alone or has support for home schooling, are only partially useful in predicting someone’s state of health.

We’ve chosen to invest in our team’s mental health and have made it a genuine priority.

Staff have licence to take time off, in the form of an early end to the day or a long lunch, whenever they’re struggling.

This is one example of the freedom our team has, to do what is needed to maintain wellness. We start from a place of trust.

Not only are these measures not abused, but the goodwill they build among team members guards them against any misuse.

Every little effort to help with mental wellbeing has value. It does not have to be a game-changing initiative to be worthy of pursuit.

It’s about building a comprehensive set of tools and initiatives, however big or small, that together make up a real and tangible mental wellbeing support program.

Our staff group is participating in a virtual walk challenge—a simple, easy-to-implement initiative that serves many purposes: maintaining team connection, encouraging physical wellbeing, stimulating healthy banter and competition, and reasons to converse.

We also have virtual coffee catch-ups with people we don’t normally connect with, to mimic what might happen naturally in a physical lunchroom.

This is nothing earth-shattering; these initiatives are small and low-cost to implement.

A big part of their value lies in the signal they send to staff: that the team’s mental health and general wellbeing is important to us.

It helps us build a culture of being willing to talk about mental health, making it safe to say ‘I’m struggling’, and knowing that support is freely available with no strings attached.

And that is a worthwhile and necessary pursuit for any organisation.


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