Over recent months many of our conversations with businesses and organisations have focused on the mental health impact of Covid. There is now clear evidence of the rise in depression and anxiety as a result of the recent pandemic. And employers are wanting to know how to support staff. In this blog we talk about personalising mental health support at work, and how this can be can achieved.
What is personalised support for mental health?
Until recently, wellbeing support in the workplace has tended to take a wholesale approach. Mental health awareness training, for example, has played an important role in introducing a basic understanding of mental health diagnoses. In turn, this has highlighted the need for greater support and signposting for individuals who are experiencing difficulties. However, as we know from working for many years in the NHS, a one size fits all approach is often not sufficient.
Personalisation of mental health care has been around for many years in the NHS. Nowadays, improvements in technology and increased mental health awareness in the workplace make it possible to reach people who are struggling at a much earlier stage and to target their specific needs.
Putting this support in place early helps staff members to recover faster and minimises the impact of psychological distress on the individual and the organisation.
Why wholesale approaches to mental health support don’t always work
When a person is suffering from psychological distress, knowing that their colleague down the corridor has done mental health awareness training is not going to make them more likely to reach out.
In addition, when people experience mental health difficulties, it is common for them to become socially withdrawn, inward focused and sometimes to feel hopeless that anything can change. This makes it hard to believe that anyone can help.
How we respond to challenge is very personal. What is difficult or demanding for one person may be run of the mill for another. People are individuals, each with their own backstory and life experience that can make it hard to predict how one person will cope compared to another. There may also be hidden sources of stress outside of work that are impacting a person’s mental health and ability to manage demands in work.
None of us are immune to psychological distress. As we move through different life stages, we come face to face with a whole range of new experiences that can challenge our mental health and wellbeing: changes to our health or employment status, difficulties in our relationships, loss or bereavement.
All of this makes it clear that simply applying a standardised or formulaic approach to support an individual in difficulty is not enough. While offering generic support to everyone can be useful to a certain extent, this is unlikely to address wellbeing need at an individual level.
Personalising mental health support at work
There are a number of ways to personalise mental health support in the workplace. The key to doing so, is to focus on the individual rather than the problem.
A wellbeing survey is a good place to start in establishing an overview of the mental health challenges within your organisation.
Using standardised measures of stress, anxiety or depression can form part of this picture, but can also be useful in understanding particular individuals’ difficulties.
Identifying staff members who are struggling and taking time to listen to them in 1-1 meetings is essential to personalising support. Asking how they are feeling or coping and really listening to what they have to say starts to build trust. Active listening is a useful tool that allows managers to step back and notice when a staff member may need additional help.
Mental health & wellbeing resources
Providing a range of resources that staff can easily access is important. Different people will find different tools and topics useful at different times.
Using a variety of formats will be helpful in accommodating a range of learning styles. Try including blogs, podcasts, videos, text documents and links to more interactive formats such as apps or websites.
Resources should include information on common mental health problems, practical tips on how to manage and when to seek professional help, and signposting to local services.
A tiered approach is fundamental to making mental health support in the workplace personal. For example, provide general information and resources that are accessible to everyone, as well as more intensive or specialist-led interventions for those who are struggling most.
Personalised wellbeing plan
Encouraging staff members to get to know the fluctuations in their mood, thoughts and feelings helps to increase their self-awareness and to highlight problems as early as possible. Digital tools such as mental health or resilience apps can help in this process.
This information will help employees to develop an individualised wellbeing plan. This plan might include the specific support they need from their employer, the skills and strategies they can use in work and at home to manage the difficulties, and information on services and support agencies who can provide more specialist help.
Remember, as the mental health fallout of Covid continues, putting a workplace wellbeing plan in place now will reap health benefits for individuals, teams and the wider organisation.