Mental health disorders are among the most prevalent illnesses in the UK. Work-related stress, anxiety, and depression make up a significant part of mental health concerns – in 2018/19, over 600,000 people experienced one of these conditions.
High workloads, anxiety about your performance, and conflict with colleagues can all affect your mental health. However, the workplace can also be a space for tackling mental health issues and offering guidance and support to improve the well-being of staff.
What causes stress?
Stress can have many causes, both inside and outside the workplace. Our social and personal lives can contribute to stress – strained relationships and financial difficulties can make situations feel overwhelming.
Inside the workplace, the most common causes of stress and anxiety for employees are workload, conflicting management styles, and work-life balance.
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) identifies six main sources of work-related stress:
- Demands from work – staff become overloaded if they feel they cannot cope with what they are being asked to do.
- Control over work – staff can feel disillusioned and unmotivated if they have no agency over their work.
- Support from managers and colleagues – mental health issues are often more prevalent if staff feel they are unable to ask for support.
- Relationships at work – work relationships that lack respect and trust can lead to problems with behaviour, grievances and bullying.
- Clarity of roles and responsibilities – staff often feel anxious about work if they are unsure of what others expect of them or their role in the organisation.
- Change – when managers do not communicate change effectively, it can create stress and uncertainty.
How Can Workplaces Manage Mental Health Issues?
While work-related stress, anxiety and depression are serious problems across the UK, there are steps that employers can take to make the workplace a comfortable and supportive environment. Low-stress environments improve the well-being of employees and provide the space for people to grow and reach their full potential.
A fundamental part of healthy workplace practice is the presence of effective support systems. Employees should feel comfortable communicating concerns to colleagues and managers. Employers, in turn, should actively look for signs that an employee is struggling with stress or anxiety so they can offer appropriate support. These signs may include:
- Taking extra time off work
- Overreacting to requests or what others say
- Expressing negative feelings about situations and expectations
- Changes in behaviour like restlessness or difficulty concentrating
Managers should be trained to support those affected by work-related mental health issues. Promoting an open door policy helps to identify and address issues early to prevent stresses from developing further.
How Can Workplaces Promote Healthy Work Culture?
Workplaces are perfectly placed to promote awareness about the importance of mental health and stress management. They have pre-existing communication structures, connections to social support networks and spaces to hold talks and activities. Workplaces can use these resources to foster healthy work cultures that minimise stress and promote productivity and overall well-being.
Workplaces can take several steps to improve their work culture, including:
- Offering mental health self-assessment tools to all employees
- Providing free counselling and self-management programmes
- Distributing brochures, flyers, and online materials to employees with information about mental health and treatment options
- Creating quiet relaxation spaces within the office building
- Holding workshops on stress management techniques
- Allowing employees to have a say in decisions about issues and topics that are a source of stress
Mental Health and Addiction
Work-related mental health conditions can be a driving factor behind substance abuse. People may use drugs or alcohol as an escape from feelings of stress and worry, or to try and forget the events of the day. Some social cultures normalise this behaviour and make substance use seem like an easy and effective way to cope with work pressures.
However, substance abuse can cause or exacerbate mental health issues in the long term. Heavy drinking or repeated use of drugs like benzos, cocaine, and opioids can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
The majority of people struggling with addiction also have an underlying mental health condition (co-occurring disorder). Effective recovery programmes treat co-occurring disorders and addiction simultaneously to prevent one from sustaining the other. Recovering from addiction can help you overcome feelings of stress and anxiety so you can reach your highest potential and thrive in the workplace.
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