World Mental Health Day - celebrating dignity

 Saturday 10 October was World Mental Health Awareness Day.  Stephanie Schreiber, Wellbeing Adviser at Business in the Community, considers the importance of dignity, the theme of the day this year, as a crucial element for mental wellbeing.

Dignity is synonymous with self-respect, pride and self-worth, but our sense of dignity can be impacted on by the way we are treated by others.

The Day gives us all a great opportunity to reframe how we think about mental health in the workplace. Dignity is a weighty word; one we don’t tend to use in everyday conversation, but underneath the surface it is a driving force, crucial to wellbeing for most of us.  Our sense of dignity, of course, is affected by the way others treat us.  This is why dignity and work should be linked and celebrated, in companies’ values, in the way they manage their staff, and in the way they engage with them. 

World Mental Health Awareness Day is just one of numerous days aimed at raising the awareness of mental health.  You could argue though, that with one in four of us experiencing a mental health condition in any given year, that we ought to be beyond the awareness raising stage by now.

Yet, despite many high profile individual testimonials and the numerous news stories citing mental health as a crisis issue for people at every stage of life, many of us don’t know enough about it to feel competent to discuss it with others, or to signpost people who need support to organisations that specialise in this area. This lack of confidence around the topic often maintains the vicious cycle of people suffering in silence, or only feeling safe to discuss their mental health condition with a small number of people.

Workload pressure is one aspect of work that we know can be linked to mental health conditions, as well as having other negative effects.  Jobs linked to poor work-life balance often have trouble recruiting and maintaining individuals who would otherwise be suited to the job. In the last week alone, professional bodies representing teachers, nurses and junior doctors have stated that large proportions of their members are seriously considering leaving their profession due to unmanageable workloads.

The reality is that, for many workers today, work is lacking in that core value of dignity.  For far too many, the threat of a damaged career if they do not perform, or even desire to do their work to the professional standard they expect of themselves, leads to a cycle, and a workplace culture, of accepting unrealistic workloads. 

By understanding how we are all feeling, we will slowly create an open culture where mental health is truly destigmatised.

So what can we do? For employers, there are big and small steps to take – including re-evaluating business models that place good work and employee wellbeing at the heart of their business. This will include a major investment in support for line managers, and training for all employees to help them keep well, and recover when they do experience mental health issues.

As individuals, there are small actions we can take each day. Why not start your next meeting by asking everyone to comment on their wellbeing? Before you know it, an honest conversation about how everyone in the team is coping will soon become normal.

Stephanie is leading on Business in the Community's involvement in the Time to Change Alumni programme, embedding mental health in the workplace starting with the #smallthings.