By Kirsty Lilley, Mental Health Expert at CABA, the wellbeing charity
After living through a pandemic, it’s safe to say that many of us are in a very different place mentally than pre-Covid. The impact of lockdowns, long-lasting uncertainty and isolation has taken its toll on vast numbers of us. Studies have shown that those who experienced mental health conditions before the pandemic struck are likely to have found things increasing difficult for a variety of reasons. Without a doubt, the pandemic has, and will continue to leave great challenges in regard to our mental health and wellbeing.
As we trickle back to our offices, and find our lives starting to look more like they did in early 2020, it’s going to be difficult to adjust. After a year that was so different to anything we’ve experienced, there were elements that we were getting used to – only now, things are changing again.
Returning to work will be different for everyone. In whatever way you are encouraged to return, its important to be honest and open with our workplaces about the issues we’re dealing with, or have had to deal with, and how we now feel.
Talking about mental health concerns isn’t easy. And for those of us who have never experienced this before, it can be hard to know what to say. Even those who have experienced discussing their mental health concerns previously can struggle to articulate their situation, let alone be aware of the support that is available and how to access it. With that in mind, we wanted to share a few tips to make this process as easy and as anxiety-free as possible.
Plan what you’re going to say
Conversations about your mental health may feel daunting, but when you decide to speak up about the issues you’re facing, have a think about exactly what it is you need to articulate. If it helps, write it down and go into your conversation with an outline of what you want to cover. There’s no pressure to get it all out in one go. If you need to have multiple conversations to cover all the necessary ground, then do it. Take the time you need and consider sharing only what is relevant or important to the situation.
Speak to whoever you feel most comfortable with, wherever you feel most comfortable
If you feel uncomfortable talking to your line manager about your mental health, don’t feel like you have to share this with them initially. Find someone in your workplace who you trust and who is going to be able to support you in the ways you need. It may be helpful that they can support you to find ways to communicate your concerns with your line manager in a way that you are comfortable with. It is helpful and ultimately beneficial to you that your line manager is aware of your situation to ensure you’re fully supported and not overwhelmed. Ultimately, it’s about employees and employers working together to find a helpful and mutually convenient way forward through the changes ahead.
It’s also worth looking into whether your company has any designated Mental Health First Aiders who you can talk to. They would have been trained in how to handle and provide support in these situations, so utilise them.
This doesn’t need to be a formal conversation in a meeting room. Take it out of the office if you’d prefer. On mutual ground, it may feel easier to chat through your thoughts and feelings. Grab a coffee, talk about it over lunch, or go for a walk. Do whatever is easier for you and take away the daunting feeling of having a 1-2-1 across a desk.
You’re not a burden
No matter how you’re feeling, it’s valid and it is understandable in the light of recent times to feel the way you do. Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed is an understandable response to the situations many of us have faced throughout these challenging times. Acknowledging how you feel is the first step in getting the help and support you need.
Sharing any of the issues you’re having to juggle won’t make you look weak, and they certainly won’t make you a burden. Although it can make us feel vulnerable to open up it’s actually an act of great courage. Your company may have policies and guidelines to support you for a reason. As a society we are now recognising the intrinsic link between good mental health and the workplace so it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together.
Follow the signposts
You might feel relieved straight after you’ve spoken to someone, however, that light relief might disappear quickly. It’s worth considering following up with any content or support you’ve been signposted to. They will help in the long run, and most importantly, your company are offering them to you often for free – so grab this opportunity with both hands.
If you don’t feel ready for it, there’s no rush – it will be there when you feel like you’re in a place to receive help.
You’re not the only person to feel like this
After what we’ve experienced during the pandemic, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’re the only person in your workplace who is struggling with their mental health. Recognising that we share a common humanity and that distress is part of the human experience will go a long way to helping us feel more able and confident to reach out for help and support when it’s needed just as we often do with our physical health.
NHS England say that 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental health difficulty each year. That’s a huge number of people – how many people work in your office? Now think back to the statistic, there is bound to be more than just you going through this.
Continuing to suffer in silence never helps in the long run and although it’s often difficult to open up it is the beginning of a journey to more support and help. Your wellbeing is critical, and it needs to be looked after, especially when you’re at work. When you’re ready and in way that you feel comfortable with, share how you feel. Only then can you be supported in a way that will help you recover.
For more advice, visit CABA’s dedicated mental wellbeing support page, which has information on how we can help you take care of your mental wellbeing and support the people around you. With self-help resources, interactive online tools, and professional, 1-to-1 services, there’s something for everyone.