The stigma of opening up about mental health struggles is finally beginning to fade. This makes conversations on mental health at work too – which plays a huge part in the mental wellbeing of a lot of us.
With technological advances – from mobile Outlook to Zoom – making us more connected than ever (and pretty much always switched on and “available”). And with most of us still working from home meaning that the work-home boundary is even more blurred – the downside is that we never truly disconnect.
This can make work stress a constant reality that never completely goes away. It threatens our emotional wellbeing even when we are at home, either in a cocoon of solitary me-time or sharing a precious moment with loved ones, taking time off or outside of office hours…
Mental Health at Work – It’s a Big Deal.
It can intrude on sleep, threaten our relationships, and literally break our brains. However, it is worryingly common for us to bottle up these work-triggered anxieties and low moods like a dirty secret, contributing to an insidious culture of silence, where we continue to smile through our Zoom tiles and nod along to the never-ending list of demands or passive-aggressive behaviour that is actually tearing us up inside…
In truth, we are actually wired to communicate better when we open up about our struggles rather than pretending that all is okay, as we believe we are obligated to in order to preserve an infallible exterior, not to mention the comfort of those in the vicinity…
We have become so obsessed by our workplace productivity, performance, professionalism, that we have forgotten to value wellbeing and self-care – but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Shifting the Blame
Indeed, with self-care (thankfully!) becoming a huge trend, and many of us making a real effort to show ourselves more love once we clock out – let’s be honest when we say most of us are still struggling.
And so we beat ourselves up. Getting stressed about the fact that we are stressed.
I need to do more yoga. Drink more water. Write several pages in my journal each day.
Could it be that maybe, just maybe, it’s not all our fault..?
The Missing Piece
So, where are we going wrong?
There are countless articles about how our screen time, productivity obsession, and default people-pleasing mode are waring away at our mental health. But is it really all on us?
I’m all for taking responsibility where needed – and we could all do with taking a step back and indulging in more self-care now and then. But that’s not the full picture! How many of us have read all the self-help articles, lit all the candles, taken the vitamins, and had those bubble baths and early nights – and yet still feel… frazzled?
Yes, these are great steps to take when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. But alas, yes, there is more.
Mental health is about what goes on inside our heads, but a lot still depends on what goes on just outside it. It’s not just us, but our colleagues and managers that play a role. Just as we play a role in the mental wellbeing of our own colleagues, family, and friends. No woman is an island.
There have been many studies on the individual’s own coping mechanisms and resilience against work-related stress. However, the focus is now shifting away from how the individual can be more “resilient” and “protect themselves” – as it veers towards the responsibilities of those in leadership roles to prevent such stressful environments or situations from happening in the first place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) now even states a definition of a “healthy job,” which just so happens to be:
A healthy job is likely to be one where the pressures on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their work and to the support they receive from people who matter to them.
Blame Your Boss (You Know You Want To)
Okay, don’t make this a witch hunt. It may not be your boss per se, but the structures in place at your workplace that perpetuate a toxic and unsustainable culture that is actually harming your mental health…
Yes, self-care is crucial. And we all ought to be taking more responsibility for our mental and emotional wellbeing for our own sakes – don’t get me wrong! That being said, work-related stress and its associated symptoms exist in almost every workplace. It requires a change not only in ourselves but also in the structures and systems we find ourselves in.
The problem is when companies see mental health as one of those touchy-feely and even taboo subjects not to be spoken about outside of a private conversation with a close colleague. But, just like any physical health condition or injury, a mental health problem (not to mention if this is a “workplace injury!”) is both serious and a real threat to one’s ability to work effectively.
Mental Health at Work: The Bottom Line
This new angle on mental health at work a meaningful switch – proposing that effective stress prevention and management in the workplace requires factors outside of the sufferer’s own head in order to improve. It takes a large portion of our own responsibility away and instead places it in the lap of those who have the power to change things for the better – whether that’s your boss, your teacher, or your parent.
Thankfully, the past decade has seen mental health issues talked about more widely, with more people than ever suffering from mental health difficulties feeling able to speak out about their experiences, seeking help when needed. But more still needs to be done.
And although journaling, essential oils, and mantras are great – they won’t cut it when you spend the majority of your waking hours in an environment (even if only virtual for the time being!) that feeds into toxicity, insecurities, and pressures that lay awake with you once your head hits the lavender-soaked pillow…