It was a Monday morning and I was out for my usual Monday morning run – a bit of an exercise boost that helps kickstart my working week… helps me keep my mental health in check. This Monday’s run was a little different than normal – it wasn’t long into my run when I came across a lady. She was pacing the pavement, looking around her as she paced, talking on the phone, looking somewhat fraught. A little fidgety. I have to admit I was partly wondering what the heck was going on and partly thinking what I could do to get myself out of any situation that was about to crop up.

Without a chance to jump to a conclusion or figure out an answer, my thoughts were interrupted by the lady. She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders and in the moments that followed I realised that she did. As the conversation unfolded rapidly in front of me, she had told me that she had lost her daughter. At first I was confused, wondering what she had meant and how she might have lost a young child so early on a Monday morning. But as the story unfolded I began to appreciate the heaviness of the news she was carrying. She had lost her daughter – her psychotic daughter (in her words) who had disappeared from their home and she was desperate to tell me some details in case I came across her and could alert some help. We spent a few short minutes engaging before she got back on the phone and I carried on, armed with a few small details of her daughter, to finish my run.

So why am I telling you this?

My runs are generally a chance for reflection – to take in some scenery and let the thoughts flow. And on this particular run my thoughts were with that lady. Her and her daughter didn’t leave my head for the rest of my run… in more ways than one. Naturally I was hoping that they could find her and get her the help that she needed but if truth be told ….I was also fearful.

  • fearful of how I might handle the situation if I were to come across her. I don’t feel “trained” to deal with that type of situation and so I was concerned about how I may handle that.
  • fearful of who could support me. I knew I’d likely be faced with the situation by myself – those who perhaps understood the situation a little more and what to do wouldn’t be there to support. I’d have to get on with it, but would my natural instincts for people be enough to figure this out.
  • fearful of how safe I am in this situation. I didn’t have a lot of detail about the circumstances and so whilst that was contributing to my fear of how to handle it, it was also driving a fear for my own safety. My concern for myself was occupying a portion of my mind instead of how I could help.
  • fearful of what I could actually do to help. I had a huge desire to help but felt acutely inadequate in what I could do to identify the daughter and to deal with whatever situation I came across.

In short I was fearful of the unknown!

The whole thing got me to thinking …

…about mental health in the workplace. Granted we might not all necessarily have a case of psychosis to deal with in the workplace, but we may well come into contact with other mental health conditions such as stress and depression. And it makes me question how aware we are of mental health, how much our beliefs impact our view of it, how fearful we are of it, how this fear impacts how we we handle it and how all of this contributes to the stigma of mental health that still exists in many organisations.

Wow! The thought of that is already making me feel heavy about it …

But here’s the thing…

It doesn’t need to be. So in attempt to alleviate some of that fear and in thinking about my experiences that morning, here are my top tips for managers and leaders to become better educated about mental health in the workplace, to alleviate their managerial fears and to reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

4 tips to managing mental health in your team and reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace

1) Obtain as much information as you are able to

Talk to the person who is dealing with the condition, with or without support as you or your organisation feels necessary. Find out everything you need to know about the condition, how it affects the employee, what support they might need, how much they’d like to share about their condition. The more informed you are as a manager, the more knowledgeable you will become and the less fearful you will be to engage further on this.

2) Seek expert help to increase your understanding

Consider how you’d handle a situation where a colleague or employee declared they had a mental health condition. Seek advice, guidance and training from your HR function, Occupational Health specialist, Employee Assistance Provider or whoever else can support you in increasing your understanding of what an employee may have shared with you and how the organisation can support them.

3) Remove the ego.

Self-protection is part and parcel of our natural instincts as people. When we feel threatened by something then our ego can kick in.  The natural flight, fight or freeze response occurs as a result of a perceived harmful attack, event or threat of our survival. Having a lack of information about something can leave us feeling threatened, like our survival is compromised. Recognise this is not a life or death situation for you – in fact this is not about you at all, this is about your employee. Focus your attention on them rather than the impact on you and dare I say it the assumption you may be making on the performance impact for your team.

4) Be respectful.

Recognise that this person is human. We are all human. They are, or have been, someone else’s son or daughter. They have someone who cares for them deeply. Think about how you treat someone you care for deeply or how they treat you. Be respectful of their mental health condition and show empathy for their situation, ensuring how you treat them is the same as all other employees.

To sum up…

This use of this simple personal example enables me to understand why managing mental health in the workplace can be tricky as a manager. Hopefully it does for you too. It makes me appreciate that we are all human, we are all complex individuals made up of different life experiences, beliefs and thoughts. And whilst we have good intentions, its natural for our minds to take over on occasion. But don’t let that distract you in dealing with the situation in the best way that you can. I encourage you to be brave, embrace your ‘human’ and let your heart (not your head) be an early guide for you in a situation where you may feel a little uncomfortable.

Keen to understand what I do?

Creating great workplaces full of happiness and great employee well-being is a key driver behind the ‘people work’ that I do in organisations. If you’re interested in finding out more about my passion for this then take a look at my website or drop me a line. I’d love to explore with you how I might be able to help you deal with the challenges you face in your workplace.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel”

– Maya Angelou