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Mental health at work: how to ask for support if you’re struggling

Posted by for Mental Health

Many have been struggling under the increased demands placed on them by the pandemic. Here’s just how much British workers have needed

Let’s face it: this hasn’t been a normal year. Between the social distancing and stay-at-home orders that were introduced to stem the tide of the coronavirus, much of 2020 has been spent at home and away from family, friends and partners.

This, then, has been a year spent mostly indoors with the people we live with. For many office workers, this has meant adapting to a new working from home routine, in which daily meetings, co-worker camaraderie and technology meltdowns are all happening from their makeshift at-home offices.

While working from home does have its perks, such as removing the need for super early wake-up times and those long and often expensive daily commutes, the intensity of these isolated workdays have taken their toll. And, for those that are still in the office or working in customer service or care roles, the pressure has been extreme, with the added worry of having to keep themselves and those they work with safe. 

As a result, people have been struggling. In fact, according to a study carried out by people management platform Employment Hero, “49% of employees of small and mid-sized businesses have asked for mental health support from their employer” since the start of the pandemic.

The problem was found to be particularly marked in workers in urban areas. 55% of London-based employees, for example, reached out to their employers for support, as did 53% in Nottingham, 51% in Birmingham and 47% in Manchester.

It is also a problem that seems to affect the younger members of the workforce the most, with 66% of 16 to 24 year olds and 56% of 25 to 34 year olds reporting that they had asked for support, compared with 37% of 45 to 54 year olds and just under a quarter of people aged over 55. 

An illustration of a woman with lots of thoughts going on around her head
“49% of employees of small and mid-sized businesses have asked for mental health support from their employer” since the start of the pandemic.

In many ways, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The coronavirus crisis has placed increased pressure on everyone’s shoulders, but young working age people have been hit particularly hard. As the BBC reported, under-25s have been more likely to feel the strain of unstable employment, with more young people being placed on furlough or facing unemployment than any other age group.

The long term implications look set to come down hardest on younger workers, too, with it being estimated that young people in employment “will face lower average wages for several years.”

With all of this in mind, it’s unsurprising that so many have been struggling with their mental health. It is, however, encouraging in many ways that such large numbers have been reaching out for support. Cate Murden is the founder of leading wellbeing and performance company PUSH, and she explains that this is a very positive step to take if you find yourself getting overwhelmed.

She explains that asking for mental health advice at work can help you to understand “that help is available and you’re not on your own,” as well as offer you clarity on your situation, so that you don’t feel you have to worry about the security of your job or the quality of your performance. If you reach out to your higher-ups, they can also “help manage workloads, so that you don’t have even more to deal with on top of how you’re feeling.”

As positive as it may be, though, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do. “Understandably, you might be concerned about confidentiality or how you might be treated,” says Cate.

Don’t worry too much, though, because the issue may simply come down to “choosing the right person” to talk to, such as “a trusted colleague or friend” if you don’t feel comfortable going to your boss or someone in HR. There may even be a person in your workplace who is a mental health first aider, who will have the training necessary to offer meaningful support.

Once you’ve decided who you want to approach, Cate recommends “thinking about how and when to do it.” So take a bit of time to consider how much information you want to give and if there is anything in particular that you think might help you. Always remember to “ask about what services there are,” too, and explore your options to ensure you get the right support for your situation. 

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