This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on kindness. The theme couldn’t be more apt or better timed.
In such unprecedented times, anxiety levels are running high. People who usually appear calm in a crisis are faltering. Many furloughed employees feel rudderless and fear for their jobs. Those left are struggling to adjust to new remote working regimes. Staff who consistently met deadlines before the coronavirus crisis are missing them. We are all trying to behave normally in the most abnormal of circumstances and cracks are starting to appear.
But amidst the panic and fear, acts of kindness are calming the nations psyche. Like huge cups of chamomile tea and a warm embrace, kindness is showing itself as a healing and calming lesson to us all.
What is Mental Health Awareness Week?
Set up in 2001 by the Mental Health Foundation, ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ raises awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspires action to promote the message of good mental health for all.
Why kindness is this year’s theme
Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said the theme of kindness was chosen because of its ability to unlock shared humanity, strengthen relationships, develop community and deepen solidarity. Kindness, Rowland says, is “the cornerstone of individual and collective mental health. It is recognised in every culture across history as something that human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”
Kindness is the cornerstone of individual and collective mental health
After witnessing acts of kindness, Rowland wanted to celebrate this as something important to mental health and to start a discussion on the kind of society we want to shape as we emerge from this pandemic.
Businesses must protect the mental health of employees
Employers have a duty of care to help employees navigate these difficult times, whether that is to continue to work remotely or in transitioning back to the workplace. Kindness and compassion from employers is essential as we ride out uncharted waves and adjust to new working regimes.
Protecting mental health, both in and outside of the workplace, will be central to the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Psychiatrists are warning of a tsunami of mental illness that has been stored up during lockdown.
A return to productivity and economic success relies upon the health of employees, and that includes not just physical health, but mental well-being too.
The nation’s mental health status before Covid-19
Prior to Covid-19, the UK’s leading mental health charity, MIND, reported that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. And that, in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year
At times of stress, we work better in company and with support, but for a large majority isolation and remote working was enforced overnight. Many people have lost jobs or been furloughed. Too many are grieving the loss of someone who has died. Every where we look, uncertainty about the future is fuelling anxiety.
The cost of poor mental health
A Deloitte report published in January this year puts the cost of poor mental health to businesses at a staggering £45billion each year. The 60-page report, Mental Health and employers, found a worrying trend in the rise of leavism (a term that describes the growing tendency of individuals to be unable to ‘switch off’ from work), a contributory factor to burnout and stress. The sudden change to homeworking will only have compounded this issue.
Poor mental health costs businesses £45billion each year
Yet, the report highlights the positive case for investment in employee mental health by employers, reporting an average £5 return for every £1 spent.
How kindness helps mental health
A new survey on kindness by The Mental Health Foundation found almost two-thirds of respondents noticed a positive impact on their mental health when people are kind to them, and felt similarly that being kind to others had the same positive effects.
Numerous studies have linked kindness to increased feelings of happiness, wellbeing, and life satisfaction.
The uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus has been extremely stressful for many. Many people have felt isolated, faced losing a loved one, fallen ill themselves, faced financial uncertainty, had their income reduced, lost jobs or seen businesses fail.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation is calling on central and local governments across the UK to take preventative action rooted in justice and kindness to protect people’s mental health.
Employers can also play a pivotal role in protecting people’s mental health and have a responsibility to do so. Our future depends upon it.
The cost to employers of poor mental health in the workplace is substantial. At a time when anxiety is riding high, the prevention of a workplace mental health crisis must start with one essential ingredient – a little kindness and compassion.
One of the biggest challenges for employers is getting employees to open up and talk about mental health at work. Why not start by asking your employees how they feel using a We Thrive employee engagement survey?