On her first day in office last July the new PM, Mrs T, stood outside Downing Street and said the crisis facing mental health services was one of the "burning injustices" she was going to address. Today in a major domestic policy speech Theresa May vowed she would do more to tackle inequalities and outlined a series of measures to improve mental health.
The PM’s speech is said to be a reaction to the government’s young people’s tsar’s report which highlighted the rise in mental health amongst young people. Further research has shown mental health is on the rise, and young people are reporting more mental health issues than ever before. The research pointed out that teachers need more training and support to help identify mental health among pupils, rather than passing it off as behavioural issues. Undoubtedly we need to look at the causes and understand further what is making this happen.
However, we all have a responsibility to help address this now. Implementing strategies and learning around mental health in schools and businesses and how we prevent it getting to crisis point for individuals is a good starting point. There is still a huge stigma around mental health and we need to banish it everywhere. Even the term ‘mental health’ could be seen as old fashioned, as the word mental has been distorted over the years. But that’s another discussion.
Everyone has a responsibility from parents and teachers to employers to make well-being and happiness a serious part of the strategy. Some of you may be thinking happiness is a long way from mental health and they sit at different ends of the spectrum. Some people even say happiness and the rise of ‘enforced happiness’ are part of the problem, with the outcome that people feel they can’t talk about problems in schools or workplaces because they are expected to be happy.
To be absolutely clear, I do not agree we need or have to be happy all the time; this would not be healthy. To be happy, there needs to be a balance in life; challenging days, sad days, as well as happy days and it’s how you can deal these that dictates overall well-being.
Realistic happiness is recognising that life does have ups and downs as well as enormous challenges and avoiding these will not make you happy. Realistic happiness is taking all this into account and looking at how we can help people lead well and happy lives.
Part of this is having coping skills, positive friendships and the right support to be able to deal with and know who to talk to in a crisis. The other part is about how to continually develop and move forward through life and how to have the confidence to try new things as well as problem-solving skills.
This does not mean ignoring dark times or pretending a walk in the park will fix a problem. However, it is about how we teach people critical cognitive skills to enable them to help themselves as much as possible. Then when extra help is needed, having strategies in place that are readily available and enable help in a positive and non-judgmental way.
We know early intervention is key to helping prevent any crisis in mental health, so let’s start with our schools and workplaces as these are the places where people go regularly. Let’s help teachers by giving them the critical skills to help them with stressors as well as how to identify, manage and support behaviours that can be mistaken as disruptive. Workplaces have a responsibility to enable managers and leaders to have the right skills to positively deal with and spot mental health in their teams. Below is a brief guide to just some ideas that may help as a starting point with some links to further information:
1. Create a culture that supports people to talk and be open about their mental health and promote well-being:
- Do you have a well-being strategy?
- Do you have policies and support in place where people can go to talk to someone?
- Do you participate in well-being surveys?
- Do you have critical skills training that covers resilience, managing stress and well-being?
- Do you promote positive working relationships between teams and managers with off-site team days and positive communication skills?
- Is there a designated helpline, person or people that individuals can access and if not do you have a clear understanding and promote services that people can access outside the business?
2. Help your managers and teachers have the right skills to have conversations about mental health; this means talking and listening. As well as skills to help them support their teams and young people in the best way that can aid prevention. Skills such as:
- Being able to spot signs early such as fatigue, regular days off, and changes in behaviour or personality. Would your teams know what these signs are? Here’s a link to Mind for more information
- Making time and having the skills to be able to talk to individuals in teams that appear to be struggling.
- Be great at listening and be approachable, as well as showing you do care.
- Have knowledge of the right policies and procedures to help someone who needs extra care
- Having the right skills to help someone coming back to work
3. Create a positive working environment that includes:
- Flexi hours
- A positive culture around taking breaks
- Exercise groups
- Talking groups
- Quiet working rooms
- Life coaching, counselling session available
- Supportive and positive policy’s around back to work
These are our top three tips to take away and start today. There are many more ways you can aid positive mental health, well-being and happiness in your organisation. Increasing knowledge and awareness around mental is essential and the best place to start.
Further information and useful resources can be found on websites like Mind. There are further case studies and reports from innovative authorities such as Public Health Wales who are looking further afield at positive solutions and prevention for young people that have been successful in other countries.
Further blog posts you might be interested in:
Some stats to think about
1 in 4 - People will experience a mental health problem each year
14 - The average age of onset for depression, as diagnosed now, compared to 45 in the 1960s
116% - The rise in young people who talked about suicide during ChildLine (UK) counselling sessions in 2013/14, compared to 2010/11
8.25% = Cuts to mental health trust budgets in England from 2011 to 2015
20% - The rise in referrals to community mental health teams in England during the same period
9.7% - Proportion of British people who meet the criteria for diagnosis of mixed anxiety & depression, according to most recent 2009 study
2,100 - Beds for mental health patients have been closed from 2011 to mid-2016 in England
41% - Proportion of people referred to a talking therapy who have a three-month wait between referral and treatment (England - May 2016)
£600m - Amount pledged by the government towards mental health by 2020/2021, - the same amount cut between 2010 and 2015
Sources: Mind, NHS, Young Minds, RCN
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