Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

9 May 2022

Mental Health Awareness Week has just started. Founded by the Mental Health Foundation, the aim of Mental Health Awareness Week is to raise awareness of mental health issues in the UK and address how to combat them.

Over the week covering 9-15 May 2022 everyone in the UK is invited to take part in Mental Health Awareness Week. You’ll find resources and news shared by both the foundation and many others throughout the week.

Mental Health Awareness Week started 21 years ago with the hope to bring mental health into the public view to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. Now being one of the biggest awareness weeks in the UK it’s safe to say they succeeded in their mission.

Each year Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on a set theme to centre the discussions and resources around. The theme for this year has been announced and it is – Loneliness.

Let’s talk about loneliness

Everyone will have experienced loneliness at some point during their lives. Especially with how the last two years have been, with the pandemic and lockdowns, it has isolated more people than ever before.

Loneliness may seem like a small issue, but it can impact both a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. That’s why Mental Health Awareness Week are aiming to open a discussion surrounding it and create a movement to tackle loneliness on a national scale. It’s important that everyone plays their part in reducing loneliness both for themselves and the wider community.

But what is loneliness?

Loneliness is when there is a gap between the social connections we have and the connections we need. This disparity chips away at a person’s confidence and sense of belonging.

The longer this feeling is left the more it will impact on a person’s mental health. If left untreated it can become a truly debilitating feeling. It isn’t just mental health though; Maslow found long term feelings of loneliness have been associated with higher rates of mortality and poorer physical health. That is why it is vital to tackle it before it becomes a larger issue.

If you want to find out more of why Mental Health Awareness Week is centred on loneliness, you can read about it here.

What you can do as an Employer

With the majority of people spending large chunks of their time either commuting or working, it’s important as an employer to consider if you are looking after your employee’s mental health properly.

With more employees working from home than ever before it’s important for employers to ensure they are still looking out for signs of loneliness or poor mental health. It’s much harder for this to be picked up on when employers no longer see their employees in the office daily.

When employees have a good relationship with managers it has been found to reduce the risk of mental health issues. However, a study by the Office of National Statistics found only 64% of employees in the UK report their relationship with their manager as good or better, leaving a third of the workforce dissatisfied with their relationship with managers. That’s why it’s vital for employers to put the effort into creating better bonds with employees for the benefit of their mental wellbeing.
It’s important to build a culture that promotes good relations from the outset. From recruitment, to training, and into employment, employers need to ensure their workplace is supportive and friendly to improve employee’s mental health. This includes team leaders and managers being approachable and engaged with their teams.

Another suggestion is to have trained mental health first aiders who employees can access confidentially, and without the risk it will have repercussions on their work. Alternatively, or in addition, you can outsource therapy service for your employees to use, giving them the separation from work which can be appreciated.
There are many ways to make sure your company is creating a culture that promotes good employee mental health and reduces loneliness. Read on to see if your business is doing all it can to help the battle against workplace isolation.

Create opportunities to socialise

Whether in the office or work from home, employees are still feeling the effects of the pandemic even now. Work from home, while being beneficial for many employees, creates a rift between employees and their wider work community. Many employees will spend vast stretches of time completely disconnected from colleagues and management and it can lead to a sense of isolation. That’s why it’s important to incorporate opportunities for your employees to socialise both inside work and outside.
Use team meetings, either virtually or in person, to have welfare checks with employees and more casual chats to build bonds. This helps your employees feel cared for by the upper management and combats the common assumption that management only care about targets and efficiencies.

However, it isn’t just about management catching up with employees. It is also about allowing employees to interact together. There should be places for employees to chat casually together whilst working as it takes the strain off the working day. Whether this is a messaging service like Teams, or a physical breakout room, will depend on your company structure but regardless of which suits your needs best, it’s important to make sure the facilities are available.

You should also support this with events for employees to relax and unwind with colleagues outside of work. Both of these ideas in tandem will strengthen bonds between employees and reduce loneliness.

Be flexible

With work being such a large part of people lives it’s important to make sure you are working with your employees, rather than against them, when it comes to their work-life balance. Employers need to encourage their employees to take their leave and allow flexibility for personal circumstances that could arise, such as bereavement or sickness. But even a boiler breaking can be hard to handle depending on your employees’ home circumstances, and the option to work from home to accommodate a plumber could reduce the stress of negotiating an appointment around working hours. That’s why giving your employees flexibility to handle life’s little hiccups helps fight workplace tension and creates an environment where work doesn’t add to the stresses of life.

A study by Golden found long hours and the lack of work-life balance is reported as the second-biggest relationship problem, with 40% of people reporting that work is placing strain on their relationships. With the increase in prevalence of apps like Teams and Outlook being used on mobile phones, work can seep its way into time that should be spent with family. It’s important to ensure that when employees finish their working day they can switch off from work.

If employees feel like they are required to be available for work, even outside of their scheduled hours, it stops employees’ being able to really disconnect from work. The lack of ability to take time off for family needs, and work fatigue were also reported by Golden as having a direct impact on employees’ mental health and resilience. That’s why employers should be emphasising to their employees that once they are out of the office they aren’t required to engage with correspondence and any work to be handled whilst they are away should fall to other colleagues.

Get involved with CSR

This next point tackles not only loneliness in employees but also within the wider community, and really, that is what Mental Health Awareness is about. Now, when it comes to CSR there are so many options to choose from. However, we will be focusing on ones that benefit the local community and help battle isolation.
Fundraisers are one way to get involved in CRS and it allows all levels of the company to raise money for a good cause. The great thing about fundraisers is that there are limitless options when it comes to what charitable cause you raise money for, and everyone can be involved regardless of physical ability. Fundraisers also help build a community spirit with the whole company working together for one shared goal.

One of the options is to get your business involved in community volunteering. Once you start looking, you’ll find your local community is brimming with places to volunteer and get involved with. Schools and libraries often struggle with funding and get by with old or outdated supplies and benefit greatly from support from local businesses. It also raises employees’ opinions of the company with CSR now being an important part of how employees’ view businesses.

There are also groups within the local community which on average struggle with loneliness more so than others, and that’s people with disabilities and the elderly. Reaching out to these groups can not only help their loneliness but also have a positive impact on your employees’ isolation as well. There are many groups dedicating to giving these groups better social outreach to reduce loneliness you can contact. By getting your employees involved in these it creates stronger bonds within the community and reduces feelings of isolation for all involved. It could be visiting care homes, dropping in for a brew and a chat in their house, or organising a larger social event, but the important thing is to focus on what you are bringing to the local community and these groups.

Evans suggests the importance of community appears to be declining in modern society, with only 42.5% of people aged 16 to 25 rating associations with others in their community as important, compared to 73.1% of over 75s. That’s why involving employees at every level is key as it’ll promote the importance of community across the entire workforce. Research by Morrow-Howell has found that volunteering has significant benefits to the physical and mental health of volunteers, as this community activity provides a sense of purpose and participation. This means the CSR endeavours of your company can improve both the physical and mental health of your employees as well as the community. CSR is an opportunity to enrich your employees and helps reduce both employee loneliness and the loneliness within the community.

Conclusion

It is important to tackle loneliness head on although there is no one size fits all solution, so consider your company and employees to find what works best in your case. You can get involved in the largest collective sharing of loneliness experiences and help shatter the stigma around loneliness. Share your experiences and send a powerful message to others, using the hashtag #IveBeenThere and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

For more resources on how to take care of your staffs’ mental health, click here.