To help raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, our HR Consultant, Joe Glover, looks at a recent social scenario he found himself in – and what we can take from it to improve mental health in the work place.

Last week, I went for a drink with my football team mates. There were five of us stood around the table, when our coach asked our goalkeeper why he’d been so quiet all day.

Stuart* replied, ‘I suffer with depression, and I’m having a really bad day.’ There was a silence – as if all of us had seen a ghost. Nobody knew how to respond.

But, let’s flip things around. If Stuart had replied, ‘I pulled my hamstring earlier, and I’m having a really bad day’, there would’ve been four different suggestions of advice, all of which would’ve helped with the pulled muscle.

Not one of us around that table was a physiotherapist, or a doctor, but we’d have all given relevant and helpful insight on dealing with the issue. But, when faced with a mental health issue – rather than a physical one – nobody knew how to respond.

So, for Stuart to turn around and tell us about the mental health issues he was experiencing, took an incredible about of courage. And we need to see more of that.

The problem is, many of us would’ve kept quiet in that situation. The stigma around how mental health makes others feel – awkward, embarrassed, uncertain – often stops people from sharing what’s really going on.

But, the more we talk, and share, the smaller the stigma will become – and the more educated we’ll all be to understand, and to help.

This is just as true for the workplace, as for social situations. In most workplaces, there’s still a culture of silence surrounding mental health.

According to the Mental Health at Work 2017 report, conducted by Business in the Community, 60% of people have experienced mental health issues because of work. But, only 53% of employees felt comfortable talking about them, and only 11% of people told their line manager.

So, how do we start the conversation on mental health?

We need to equip employees with an understanding of mental health issues – and give them the confidence to talk about them. We also need to use language that’s free from judgment and discrimination.

MIND can provide mental health first aider training, to guide employers and employees on how to spot the signs of poor mental health or mental health issues. It’s really important to educate and inform line managers on mental health, so they can champion it within their teams.

Look at your policies. How you make them easier to understand, and more approachable? Mental health should be recognised in your policies – in the same way as physical health, training, and personal development – as tools for employees to have a fulfilling work life. Make it clear that you have a zero-level tolerance on stigma.

Mental health awareness needs to be driven by senior people in organisations. Challenge them to start talking about mental health – and ask them to share their experiences. Buy-in at this level will help to remove any fear or hesitance people have when it comes to sharing any mental health issues.

Keep the conversation going. Share other organisations’ stories and case studies – help break the silence, and gain knowledge, help and ideas at the same time. Get people talking about these ideas – do they like them? What can you use from them?

If we talk about mental health, it’ll come out of the shadow.

That way, the next time someone says, ‘I suffer with depression, and I’m having a really bad day’, even if we can’t provide advice – we can help.

*all names have been changed.