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Supporting mental health in the workplace is high on employers’ objectives for corporate wellness in Ireland. Why? Because happy, healthy employees make for a great place to work.

We all go through tough times in our lives, where we struggle and need extra support. Our mental health affects us in all aspects of life, which means we don’t get to leave our problems at home. And since we spend most of our day at work, it makes sense for employers to support mental health in the workplace.

So what can employers do to promote mental health at work? In this article, we’ll look at some positive measures to promote employee mental fitness.

Before doing so it’s useful to understand the distinction between employee mental health and mental illness.

 What is mental health and how does it differ from mental illness?

Mental illness

Mental illness can be defined as the experiencing of severe and distressing psychological symptoms to the extent that normal functioning is seriously impaired. Examples of such symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Obsessional thinking
  • Delusions and hallucinations

Some form of professional medical help is usually needed for recovery/management. This help may take the form of counseling or psychotherapy, drug treatment and/or lifestyle changes.

Mental health 

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as…

 … a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. (WHO, 2007)

Mental health is, therefore, a holistic concept, involving the wellbeing of the person as a whole; socially, physically, emotionally. It’s important to maintain a mental fitness level, no different than the need to look after our body and physical fitness.

 What aspects of employee health and wellbeing play a role in mental fitness? 

There are 7 aspects of employee health and wellbeing that impact mental health.

  • Diet
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Meditation/Mindfulness
  • Relationships
  • Social support
  • Work-life boundaries

Supporting health and wellness measures that promote wellbeing in these key areas will have a positive impact on the mental health of employees.

What measures can employers take to support mental health in the workplace?

  • The first step for employers is simply to assess the current state of employee wellbeing in the workplace, for instance through staff surveys. Open the conversation about mental health and listen to what employees have to say. 
  • Having policies in place to support work-life balance and allowing for flexible working hours can really support employee wellbeing. 
  • Promoting positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace makes a difference at every level. This can be supported through training and coaching, particularly for leaders as they impact on the entire team.
  • Likewise, helping employees improve their communication skills, facilitating teambuilding exercises and delivering inclusion and awareness training will all contribute to creating a supportive community environment. 
  • Workplaces can encourage staff to exercise by giving a proper lunch hour, mapping out local walking routes, providing a gym (for larger companies) or reduced membership.
  • Provide healthy meals/snacks for employees (in large organisations) OR introduce healthy eating initiatives that educate and encourage employees to make better choices about their diet.
  • Employers also need to tackle work-related stress caused by excessive workload, poor management, poor communication etc.
  • Employers should nominate and train Mental Health First Aiders amongst staff and consider establishing an employee counseling service. 
  • Proactive employers can engage corporate wellness providers to deliver one-off seminars, workshops and mental health training sessions, as well as structured employee wellness programmes to support employees across the 4 pillars of employee health and wellbeing: Food, fitness, mind, and money. 
  • Finally, employers should encourage open conversation about mental health issues to remove stigma and feelings of isolation.
About the author : Aine Ryan

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