Mental health in the workplace

Mental health is being talked about more and more, and mental health in the workplace, in particular, is the topic of the moment. Earlier this month, we saw something wonderful happen. A woman in the UK took a day off work, emailing colleagues that it was due to her mental health. What happened next was remarkable – the director of the company emailed her back, commending her on her honesty. There was no judgement and no further questions.

mental health at work; are you supported?

This has sparked conversation across the country.

Should we be allowed to take mental health days? Are they the same as a sick day? How much do our jobs actually affect our mental health?

Of course, we are particularly interested. Here at Counselling Directory, we pride ourselves on our passion for helping people and our work in raising awareness on mental health and the benefits of talking therapy. But how do people really feel?

We asked five people, with differing careers and job roles, to share their thoughts.

Do you think your job affects your mental health? For better or for worse?

I do think work has a big effect on mental health in general. When things are going well, it can inspire and lift me up. But when there are stressful situations, it can make my mental health worse (as any source of stress would!). – Marketing

Given the company’s focus on well-being, it undoubtedly makes for a positive effect on my own mental health. There is very much an open door policy for staff to discuss concerns. Socials and events are organised where well-being is first and foremost. I guess the nature of my job sees me occasionally read or listen to some harrowing accounts from others who are battling their own mental health problems, but I wouldn’t say this adversely affects my own. – PR

I do think that a job has an impact on your mental health. Targets, deadlines and working as a team brings a number of stresses to individuals. The obvious answer is to say for the worse, but if you work in a job that you truly enjoy, uses your skills and helps you to evolve as a person, then it certainly can help to promote positive mental health. – Management

Both. If I’m having a bad day, or have a particularly stressful project, it has a negative impact outside of work. The biggest impact on my mental health (for better and worse) comes from colleague interactions; if it feels like someone is being critical or overly negative, it can have a surprising effect. Likewise, if someone has been unusually kind or gone out of their way to chat during the day, it seems to really lift my mood overall. – Creative

I guess it was a rollercoaster. My mental health was boosted after seeing a lengthy story on the page completely and going viral, after it started out as a pie-in-the-sky idea. However, when a story would fall through and I was left with three hours to source, write and edit a replacement, the pressure most likely affected my mental health. On reflection, while the content managers would put pressure on reporters, I was putting a greater demand on myself. Journalism – a fiercely competitive game. – Journalist

Would you feel comfortable talking about mental health with colleagues?

With certain colleagues I do. For example, I feel I can be open about mental health with my team and colleagues who I consider friends. With other colleagues, I may feel less inclined to talk about it unless directly asked. – Marketing

I think I would feel comfortable, particularly having seen colleagues occasionally share their own stories. – PR

Yes, I would. I believe that people should be able to talk openly about their mental health, so that we are able to understand the challenges that they are going through. Opening up and talking are good therapies. As a man, I know how challenging it is to open up, but I am certainly working on this! – Management

Absolutely not. It feels too much like whining, oversharing, or like I’m going to negatively impact their day. When most people ask how you are/how your day is, they don’t really want to know – they’re just being polite. For me, sharing about mental health falls under this same umbrella; while I’d be happy to talk about other people’s experiences, I would probably avoid talking about my own openly. – Creative

Among fellow reporters, yes. To my editors, not at all. I think if one reporter had spoken up to senior management, then it would’ve paved the way for others to follow suit. Looking back, possibly two or three of my colleagues might have had mental health issues. Perhaps members of management themselves were having issues, yet were compelled to keep quiet. – Journalist

Would you call in sick as a result of your mental health?

I think I would. I haven’t yet personally, but I have booked time off to help my mental health and have been quite open about this. If I was really struggling though, I think I would feel comfortable calling in sick. – Marketing

If I felt the need to, I guess I would call in sick if my mental health needed some attention. – PR

Yes, if it was so difficult to manage and was having an impact on my performance in my role – I would hope my employer would be supportive. – Management

I wish I could, but it doesn’t feel like I could. In my experience, it still very much feels like managers have the expectation that ‘everyone has bad days/everyone finds things tough sometimes’ and that we should just ‘get on with it’. When mentioning the negative impact aspects of my job in the past to one manager hoping for support, I was told ‘it’s just a job’ so I shouldn’t let it affect me so much. As managers and colleagues haven’t wanted to hear about work-caused stress, it’s made me far less likely to bring up any other things that may be impacting my mental health and well-being. – Creative

Never, the idea of calling in sick for mental health just didn’t register. There was little focus from the company on the issue, it was a given that the job was pressurised and that the onus was on you to find a solution. If there were support mechanisms there, they were not abundantly clear. I would certainly attach no blame to my editors, as they too were under pressure. The idea of ‘well-being’ was just lost in the sea of deadlines. Perhaps reporters did call in sick owing to mental health issues, yet feigned their illness as something physical to feel that their absence was more ‘justified’. – Journalist

What are your thoughts on ‘mental health days’? Should this be the norm in offices?

I think these should become the norm. I’ve booked time off using my holiday as a mental health day, but not having to use holiday and being able to just plan a day off for your mental health should be encouraged. – Marketing

I feel it should be standard practice, if mental health affects performance at work, then undoubtedly you should have the chance to get it attended to. – PR

I assume that this relates to specific events on these days to help better understand and support everyone – I am all for helping to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health challenges! – Management

It would be great if it could be. Mental health should be just as important as physical health to employers, as well as employees. What’s going to affect the company more; someone who has a seasonal bug for a day or two, or someone whose mental and emotional health is being negatively affected to the point where they question if they really want to stay in that position? From a personal perspective, it would be great if I could honestly call up and say I needed a mental health day, instead of feeling like I have to try and push through, then having no energy, motivation or concentration to even try and relax when I get home. – Creative

All offices and companies should have mental health days, irrespective of industry. Mental health affects all elements of society, so this should be reflected in the workplace. – Journalist

How do you ‘switch off’ at the end of the day?

I practice yoga, meditate, have a bath and relax with a movie or a good book. – Marketing

Quite easily, doing sport and relaxing at home with my girlfriend. – PR

Switch off is a wonderful term. I’m not sure I ever truly switch off from work, but then again I love what I do and don’t see it as a job. I have my girls, my dog and running, which always seem to help with distracting me from other things, and certainly help with processing my thoughts. I do enjoy ‘me time’ and having space to clear my head. – Management

I play a lot of computer and board games with my other half and friends. I try to cook together with my partner most nights, so we are doing a shared activity, away from screens, social media and work emails (which we both have an awful habit of checking all hours of the day). I also buy far too many lush products to use while stealing an hour of ‘me time’ a couple of times a week. – Creative

It was extremely difficult to switch off at the end of the day, particularly as it was commonplace for editors to call in the evening with queries over stories written earlier that day. Secondly, your mind was recovering from the frenetic pace of the newsroom and having filled a daily paper. Your attention would then shift to preparing for the following day’s edition, and trying to source stories. – Journalist

What are your answers to the above questions? Would you feel comfortable calling your boss, explaining you needed some time off to focus on your mental health, or would you feign physical illness?

Join the discussion in the comments below!

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.
Written by Ellen Lees
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