by Dr Richard Heron
Our health is always with us. We track it with phone apps, talk about it with friends and family and make toasts to it on special occasions. And just like people on the whole, our health fluctuates and changes from day to day, week to week and year to year.
Sometimes we are in excellent health, untroubled by the events around us and performing at our best at home and at work. At other times our physical or mental health can take a dip. We may be troubled or stressed by events that are out of our control, or our physical health can be impaired by a strain or sprain.
Small problems can knock our confidence, as we find it more difficult to think or move as easily as before. At the other end of the spectrum, up to one in four of us each year may need additional help to address a more serious mental health problem such as anxiety or depression, or we might develop a more complex physical illness that needs clinical attention.
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about discussing a broken arm or bout of flu with a colleague, but we find it much more difficult to talk about our mental health at work. This is why Mental Health Awareness Week is so important.
This week provides a helpful reminder to normalise the conversation about mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health. For many people the majority of their waking hours are spent at work, making the workplace an important setting to address mental as well as physical health matters.
When it comes to mental health, starting a simple conversation with a colleague we are worried about demonstrates that we have noticed them and that we care. It could be the first step towards getting them the help they need, to addressing factors in the workplace that could help or hinder recovery and for some it could even be a life-saver.
Whenever we are stricken by illness or face the more difficult moments in our lives, the importance of empathy, by someone who genuinely cares, putting themselves in our shoes and listening to us without judgement cannot be underestimated.
Could this someone be you, a friend, a co-worker or a manager? Could you help someone make that first call to an Employee Assistance Programme or occupational health professional if you have one at work? Early interventions can help co-workers back to health and help them to stay engaged in productive work – a healthy outcome for employee and employer alike.
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