Karen Beaven PX Innovation Hub and Founder, The HR Entrepreneurs Network, ‘Mental Health Breaking the Stigma’

By Esther


Equipping HR with the skills we need to deal with mental health. To set the scene; Shared open personal yet powerful experiences of a breakdown when it finally happened at work. Approach was ‘go home early and we will see you Monday’ often helpful intent but not what is actually needed. Sometimes our bodies will give us the massive wake up call that we need to get ourselves mentally and physically well again and reassess where we are and rebuild.

The facts; Dr Carey Stephens estimated at least 50% workplace absence due to mental health last year this is very high and often people do not realise there is a problem. How effective are we in HR at noticing the signs when often our employees do not see the signs themselves (denial)? 3 in 4 mental illnesses start in childhood (Guardian), almost 40% of the public think people with a mental health issue are prone to violence.

Common mental health issues – OCD, bipolar, stress, PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety. How do we spot these things coming up and how do we help? Spotting the signs – Extreme or marked changes in behaviour, changes in diet, stop eating proper food, tiredness, absences can often be warning signs. If you are open to having an honest conversation with each other ask your HR team how they might spot the signs in each other as a team, how they might say something when they notice the signs, can really help early interventions?

If you suspect someone is not well how do you approach them – ask them if they are okay (they will say yes), but then say you have noticed (picking up on factual changes you have noticed) always use “I” not we, that has noticed…give them the chance to talk but if they don’t, just ask twice then leave it and tell them where you are if they need you.

The First Response advice – this is often HR that finds themselves in this position, in all scenarios this applies; ensure your own safety, listen, acknowledge without judgement, support through providing information, direct towards professional help, direct towards other sources of support (Samaritans or EAP) and again ensure your own safety….

Improve your strength and resilience in 10 days – small actions and techniques to improve your own reset or use for your team.  Tried and tested. Should we call it Mind Matters? Take the stigma away from using the word Mental and Health, this is a term used by the NHS.

    1. ‘This ain’t my stuff’ tree, Find a tree that you walk past everyday not in your own garden but close to work, at the end of a work day just gently touch the tree (so it does not look weird) imagining you are leaving work there all the stuff and thoughts and stress as you brush your fingers on the tree and you can pick them up in the morning  if you need to. This is a way to tell your brain it is okay to leave things and that you are not forgetting them though.
    2. ‘Shape your diet’; this is the absolute foundation of physical and mental wellbeing if you are fuelling yourself with rubbish your output will be poor. If you want to deliver quality results you need to fuel your body and hydrate. For 10 days keep a food diary, everything that goes into your mouth and bring awareness to what you eat you can resolve it yourself.
    3. ‘Sleep’; not getting enough, disturbed and interrupted Sleep Council suggests 7-9 hours is optimum for what we need. What are the reasons? Screen time in the evening (phone, TV etc) for last hour before bed no technology, ban it and try this to see if it helps? Do you keep your phone by your bed, maybe move it to somewhere else?
    4. Triggers and sources of stress; Post it note junkies! Think about every source of stress write one per post it note, turn it over and write on the sticky side up (the wrong side), divide them into 2 piles ‘I can do something about this’ and second pile ‘I cannot do anything to impact this’ then put them in priority order biggest stress first. Turn over the post it note to the correct side and write one thing you could do in that week to deal with the stress and work your way through the stress. Trigger of stress is on the reverse but the action you can do is facing you in priority order. The action you take resolves the stress. The pile you cannot do anything about rip them up burn them, you cannot do anything about it so do not hold on to it, let it go!
    5. Self talk; Believe you can and you’re halfway there! To get rid of self-talk that inner voice, who does it sound like? Is it another version of you or someone else? Think about praise as you need to reframe it make it sound like Yoda from Star Wars for some reason it works!
    6. Sources of strength – think about the things that bring you strength, a person, a song, a place? Write one per post it note and put them in priority order, then write down the last time you did it, or went there or met that person. Then ask yourself if you have become disconnected from these things? What are your ‘rocks’? Reconnect with things that bring you strength.
    7. Mindfulness; If you start to feel in the moment emotions getting out of control (cry, scream, shout) find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Your extreme emotion will be diffused it gives your brain time to reset
    8. Choose your battles; You do not need to fight all of them in HR it is about energy, do you have allies you can call on to support you, Is it a battle you would put your career on the line for, could you back your team if there is a chance to win it, if you can answer yes then carry on.
    9. Bravery; think about it as motivation you can be brave if you are motivated enough. Question your purpose as to why you want to do something?  Train for something, prepare and learn as you increase your knowledge the fear starts to subside (public speaking for example). Set yourself up for a series of small successive wins on the way to build confidence.
    10. Your plan; give yourself a 10-day plan, do one thing a day where you put your own self-care first so you can be in a more robust position to support your team and company. We have to role model and embody it.

It is important that HR embeds good wellbeing practices but also that we look after ourselves.