A person’s mental health changes over time, sometimes these changes are rapid, sometimes they take place over a number of months or even years. Regardless of the pace of change, every week, one in every six adults experience common mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, often triggered by stress. While stress can originate from any aspect of our daily lives, work-related issues often cause stress and where such stress is prolonged it can lead to both physical and psychological damage, including anxiety and depression. Work stress can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, and problems at work can bring on symptoms or make their effects worse.
Spotting early warning signs
Over the past decade, attitudes towards mental illness have grown more open and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the conversation and furthered the normalisation of mental health issues. Personally, I feel I have a better understanding of my own triggers and, as a general population, I believe we are better informed about common mental health problems. I’ve found this makes it easier to instinctively identify when someone around us is struggling.
As a leader, I am more open than ever to talking about and understanding mental health issues with my team and I strive to create a communal understanding that is vital to be able to help each other by spotting the early warning signs and acting on them. I encourage other leadership teams to place an emphasis on developing a culture of proactivity and safety that encourages employees to speak up when they are experiencing mental health challenges. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to be open and honest about your own issues. Let’s say you’re struggling to focus on a day when you have several one-to-one meetings with your team members, rather than go through the motions not fully engaged have an open conversation about how you’re feeling and reschedule the meeting. This avoids placing more pressure on yourself but also removes the risk that the other person will spot your lack of engagement and worry that they have done something wrong which could trigger a stress response.
Putting mental health at the heart of your organisation
In the same way that people experience changes in their requirements for mental health support over time, so do businesses. At PubMatic, we ensure that our employees have the appropriate support available as the business evolves. For example, as a business scales, management roles tend be filled through internal promotions. With promotion comes additional responsibility which can be stressful and the business leaders need to make sure there is sufficient, appropriate support for these new managers and individuals at every level of the company.
One of the most important things I encourage people to remember is that when we’re talking about mental health is that there is a lot we can all do to prevent challenges from arising. First and foremost, we can build trusted relationships based on openness, integrity, and empathy. I’ve found that once that foundation has been established it’s much easier to actively check in with colleagues and really listen to their response when you ask “how are you?” and for them to be more honest in the response.
When I think there might be something amiss, I use open-ended questions to give the other person the opportunity to open up should they wish. Sometimes, it’s helpful to give people space too – can you remove a task from their to-do list? Can you facilitate a conversation with other team members who may have experienced similar issues? It’s also important to remember that you don’t always need to rush to a solution, sometimes all that’s required is for someone to listen.
Find what works for you
We know that mental ill-health can be triggered by a feeling of being out of control – something that is often felt in the workplace in situations where, for example, you have a day full of meetings and your inbox is filling up with emails that you can’t deal with immediately. The triggers for feeling out of control will differ depending on each individual’s psychology but the important thing is that we acknowledge that we can’t control everything and that we find a way to be comfortable with that. When I start to feel out of control I take a step back and evaluate whether it’s a level I can cope with or if it’s at a level where I need to take action such as asking someone I trust for support.
Some of the things that I have found work particularly well for me in the workplace are to empower people to take control of their own diaries and give them the confidence to ask to reschedule meetings that are inconvenient rather than bending over backwards to accommodate everyone. I’ve also rolled out a semi-official policy for my team of no meetings on Friday afternoons meaning that everyone can use that time to focus on completing anything that has built up over the week so they can start Monday afresh.
Outside of the workplace, my family and friends are my go-to resource for support. I also find that getting outside helps, taking time to appreciate the natural environment and thinking about the bigger picture. Failing that, I hit a punch bag – literally. Boxing is an amazing stress reliever and really helps me to work out any underlying frustration which can lead to worry and stress.
Finally, never, ever, forget that unless you are a mental health professional, you’re limited to noticing changes in behaviour. If at any point you become concerned about an individual or yourself, work with your HR team, or directly with a medical professional to seek the appropriate support.