Because Time To Change is closing due to its funding drying up, I thought I’d write an article about how to become a workplace mental health champion. Time To Change championed mental health in the workplace, I created this article to carry on their spirit of supporting workers with their mental health and general wellbeing. So credit where credit is due.
This is part one of a two-part series that’ll cover being a mental health champion, which has links to my article: How To Be An Effective Mental Health Ally. The first instalment will focus on the workplace, whereas the second instalment will look at being a mental health champion in the community so you can support your local area.
What You’ll Gain From Being A Workplace Mental Health Champion
- The knowledge that you are part of a movement to create positive change.
- Increased understanding of wellbeing and fighting mental health stigma in the workplace.
- You’ll develop new skills outside of your normal work role.
- Increase your confidence in public speaking.
- It’ll look good on your CV.
- You’ll be helping to end mental health stigma in your workplace and beyond.
Can You Be A Workplace Mental Health Champion?
You don’t need to have experience with mental health problems to support the cause. What you need is a desire to help people and to reduce the stigma around mental health so people aren’t ashamed.
Thus, if you’re willing to educate and tackle mental health stereotypes, stigma, and discrimination, then you’re the right person to be a workplace mental health champion. You’ll also have to be willing to put in the time and effort to pursue such an agenda.
If you’re willing and able to engage with your coworkers constructively and positively, often in the face of adversity, to empower them to share their experiences with mental health, then not only will you help your colleagues but also your workplace by improving productively. That’s because poor mental health has a detrimental effect on employee output.
If you’re willing to take on this challenge, then you’ve already managed to pass the first step in becoming a workplace mental health champion.
What Do Workplace Mental Health Champions Do?
Your primary role will be to help raise awareness around mental health to tackle the stigma that surrounds it. Find a way that best suits your style in order to do this, but try to be creative if you can. The best way to achieve this is to work with your workplace to create or supplement their workplace strategy for supporting everyone that works there.
Big or small, any activity that helps to reduce mental health stigma is positive. So you could start with posters from mental health organisations around the workplace and signposting people to further resources.
Contact your local mental health services or online resources for advice on how you can support your organisation as a workplace mental health champion. You can also ask your organisation for funding to get training to better help you in this role, such as getting training in Mental Health First Aid.
The Main Message
- Mental health is equally important as physical health, and thus they should be treated the same.
- Mental health issues are common and treatable.
- Small things can make a big difference, and that’s true for mental health too.
- Having the courage to talk about mental health helps everyone. Asking someone how they’re doing, and asking twice for a real answer if needed, then listening to that answer, can make a big difference.
- We all need support sometimes.
- To get people to recognise signs of problematic stress in themselves and others.
- How to look after your own wellbeing and use self-care.
Tips For Getting Started
- If your organisation has a Human Resources department, then liaise with them about what you’re hoping to do in your role as a mental health champion.
- Take some time to identify the skills you have, what you like using, or want to develop more.
- Think about what you can do to start conversations directly and indirectly, such as creating or finding activities to do with your coworkers, or even using icebreakers. My Mental Health Pub Quiz is good for this, which you can find here.
- Sit down with your diary and look at your workload so you can map out when you can make time to engage in the activities and the conversation starters you came up with. Remember to make your diary realistic.
- Complete a Wellness Action Plan, which Mind has created templates for that you can find by clicking here. This will allow you to know how to look after yourself and your wellbeing. You could also benefit from sharing your Wellness Action Plan with your manager so they know how they could support you.
- Create a signposting resource. Visit my crisis line pages for help in creating a signposting list relevant to where you are in the world (Global Crisis Lines And Support and UK Crisis Lines And Support). Also, included any information that your organisation has to offer, such as their Employee Assistance Programme. For example, my partner’s place of work offers access to a mental health app that they can access. They also have mentors there.
How To Start A Conversation
- Ask someone how they are doing and engage in active listening, but also give them time and space to talk.
- If you’re comfortable sharing something personal, then you could share your own experience with mental health.
- Talk about what self-care and wellness activities you used to help you maintain your general wellbeing, relax, or de-stress. Then you can ask your colleagues what theirs are.
- Use news stories and documentaries related to mental health to start a discussion. For example, recently there was a Freddie Flintoff documentary on BBC 1 where he discusses his battle with bulimia.
- You could use mental health facts to start a conversation.
Basic Conversational Skills
There are some basic skills you can use that can be adapted from such areas as Motivational Interviewing.
- Give your fall attention when talking with someone.
- Allow the person to talk by practising using silence.
- Reflect and paraphrase, by repeating shorter versions of the person’s story back to them.
- Avoid leading questions.
- Use open questions (a question that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” type of response).
- Clarify things with open questions.
- The person may have mentioned several issues, therefore, focusing on one at a time might be the best path. For example, pick the ones you feel you’re more able to support them with or one’s most relevant to helping them cope with work.
- Summarising the person’s story is basically a long way of paraphrasing but shows you’re listening. This is especially good, as the conversation may be coming to a close.
- Focus on the here and now when possible, which can be done by sharing how it’s making you feel in response to what the person has said.
- Be genuine, so if you say you’re comfortable talking about something, then you actually should be comfortable about it.
- Offer unconditional positive regard (basic acceptance and support regardless of what they say).
- Be mindful of your body language.
I covered this in an article before, but this could make for a good activity to help people manage their workload so they can better manage their stress. If you’re interested in finding out more, click here.
Another topic you could cover is what stress is and how they can manage it. Again, this is a topic I’ve previously written about, so click here if you’d like to read the article so you can make an activity around it.
Funny video break
Humour and cute animals are always good self-care care, so why not set a regular short break to watch a few short funny animal videos? You could even get your co-workers to email you links to videos for these scheduled funny video breaks.
The five ways of wellness
Have an activity where you discuss different kinds of self-care, like muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, etc. Should your organisation have diverse staff working there, then check out my alternative wellness ideas by clicking here.
How to be an ally
Mental health pub quiz
This is a simple activity that can be done in groups with a prize for the group that wins. All you’ll need to create a quiz based on mental health is some simple information and statistics o the topic, which you could do as a myth or fact method. You can also use my example of this if you’d like, which you can find here and on my Resources page here. The two mental health quizzes I created are free to download and use.
Tea, cakes, and a chat
Set aside a regular time slot to have a sit down over a hot drink and a cake to talk about wellbeing and to check in on morale. This could be your fika.
This one’s a seasonal idea, whereby if your team or organisation do secret Santa, then you could encourage them to pick a theme of self-care gifts. For an idea about what kinds of things would be self-care gifts, then check out my article about it here.
A common problem among people is feeling like they’re not good enough – imposter syndrome. So why not set aside some time to acknowledge everyone’s achievements?
Although this is a difficult topic, you’d be surprised how many people aren’t aware of what counts as abuse, so educating them about what is abuse could change someone’s life. If you want support for creating something around this, then check out my article on abuse by clicking here.
Do events on national and global mental health days/weeks/months, such as World Mental Health Day.
Create activities that teach people the merits of not eating their lunch at their desks, being open about how they’re feeling and self-care activities, or how to ignore work calls and emails when they’re not working.
You could create activities to do as a group based on positive psychology interventions, which, I also have an article on. Click here to read about positive psychology so you can create activities based on it.
Protecting Yourself As A Workplace Mental Health Champion
As much as you may be looking forward to working in your new role as a mental health champion, you still need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. One way to do that is to make sure what your boundaries are as an individual and for your role, defining what you will and won’t do. Be clear with your co-workers about what your role is and isn’t.
For example, you’re a mental health champion, but not a trained counsellor, so be clear about that distinction. However, you can offer peer support if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. Be clear about how much time you can offer the role and be clear about what skills you have or don’t have to support your role.
Explain what confidentiality is in your role as a mental health champion because you have to take into account safeguarding concerns. You’ll want to explain that in some circumstances, you’ll have to disclose something if you are concerned about their safety or the safety of others. You’ll also have to breach confidentiality if a serious crime has been committed, and in these circumstances, you’ll have to go through the appropriate channels to handle such concerns.
Don’t make promises as you might not be able to keep them, such as the issues around confidentially I just stated above.
If you don’t have time to deal with something, which is likely in the workplace, then book in a time to have that conversation and/or signpost them to other resources for support. Remember, one of the first steps to take in this role is to create a resources list, with help from my Global Crisis Lines And Support and UK Crisis Lines And Support to get you started. This would be a good time to break that out.
Ask to see your organisation’s safeguarding policy on vulnerable adults and children if they have one. In the meantime, the gist of safeguarding is that all vulnerable adults and children are protected from abuse or neglect to live safe, empowering, and happy lives by supporting them to get the most out of their lives with equal rights. An example of someone who could be classed as a vulnerable adult or child could be someone who has a mental health problem or a learning disability.
There is a chance that someone may disclose to you something that would require safeguarding. In such situations, you should remind them of when you’ll be required to break confidentiality if you haven’t already done so. For example, a co-worker may share that they’re a target of abuse, have suicidal thoughts (if you feel able, you could go through a Safety Plan with them), have money issues (credit unions could be useful in this situation), or have substance abuse problems.
In such situations, try not to ask questions and just listen instead, but if you do, make them open questions rather than yes or no type of questions. Don’t offer an opinion or advice, instead signpost them if you feel it’s appropriate.
Make a record of what was said in their own words, if possible, and make sure to sign and date it. Then speak to your organisation’s safeguarding lead or contact the Human Resources department, if they have one. Lastly, seek support for yourself. Dealing with discourses around issues like abuse can be a heavyweight to bare on your own.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of fighting mental health stigma in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.