By Mark Walsh, Founder and CEO of Lighthouse Therapy Group
Our alarm goes off before the sun comes up, we follow our everyday morning routine of having a shower, a cuppa which we drink while getting ready, but we skip breakfast because we’re running a little late. We dash out to the car while cursing and criticising ourselves because we didn’t have time to pop upstairs to kiss our kids goodbye for the day. We find ourselves stuck in the same traffic jam as yesterday and the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. We arrive at our workplace where we notice our boss checking their watch and we clock in for work as if we’re just another tool. We then begin our working day as if we’re just a machine to be used and exploited to maximise company profits. We watch the clock all day, saying to ourselves, “just get through these next few hours!”
At the end of the working day we drag ourselves back to the car hoping that the commute back home, which now stands at a national average of 57 mins per day, will be a lot easier than we anticipate. But it’s not until we get home that the real tragedy happens. All the hits that we’ve took all day, all the frustration of not being recognised as an individual, the increasing low self-worth from not being heard all day start to take its toll and we unload all these negative emotions and experiences out on the people who are the closest to us. In other words, we go home and kick the proverbial cat. At the end of the day we go to bed feeling exhausted, lost, trapped and alone hoping that the next day will be in some way better than this day. But in our mind, we know that it will be just the same and no doubt every day after that is going to be a Groundhog Day. This is such a sad and yet so common scenario of the millions of employees out there in the UK who have found themselves in an ‘existential crisis’.
Human beings by their very nature are social creatures who crave to be recognised, accepted and valued. Whether it be in our private, social or work lives we are constantly searching for that sense of fulfilment that we get when we feel that we are making a positive difference to our environment. Our egos and our sense of self-worth feed off our positive interactions with others which in turn builds our resilience and promotes positive mental health. The key concept behind all this positivity is that it creates within us a sense of ‘meaning’ to our lives.
In addition to seeking meaning in our lives, we are also searching for a way of living a true and authentic life. Throughout life many people find themselves stuck in a job where they get no satisfaction, they get no fulfilment and they become lost. When they were younger, they had dreams and aspirations but due to life circumstances they did not come to fruition and they are filled with a sense of being trapped. When an individual reaches this stage and they lose all direction they are then plagued with internal conflicts. These conflicts then present themselves in maladaptive ways, such as distress, frustration, despair and depression. With mental health now reaching epidemic levels, it would be fair to say that more and more people are now living an unauthentic life, but what can be done?
From an existential perspective, every single individual is responsible for themselves and ultimately only they can change their lives to create a more meaningful and fulfilling life. However, there is a growing understanding and acceptance that employers shoulder a lever of responsibility for their employees within the workplace. There is currently quite a spotlight on workplace mental health now with the ‘headstogether’ campaign heading up an initiative with Mind in promoting positive mental health in the workplace.
The Stevenson/Farmer Review highlights that 300,000 individuals lose their jobs each year to mental health related issues and that poor mental health in the workplace is costing UK employers a staggering sum of money. Absenteeism reportedly costs UK employers £8bn per year while presenteeism costs in-between £17bn to £26bn per year and staff turnover costs a further £8bn. With all these huge numbers added together it is reportedly costing UK employers between £33bn and £42bn per year. With these numbers in mind it’s financially right for business and not just morally right to address the issue of mental health in the workplace. A key finding from the Stevenson/Farmer report was that UK bosses are aware of the need to support their staff, but they simply do not know where to turn for support. Certainly, the businesses of Sunderland and surrounding areas need direction and it’s comforting to note that the work being done behind the scenes with the Sunderland Workplace Health Alliance is going to offer some kind structure.
Unfortunately, however, where there is a gap in the market there are always going to be organisations or other companies ready to offer the only solution to any problem. An option that is currently being promoted as the most cost-effective solution for workplace mental health is the use of ‘mental health first aiders’ in the workplace. There is currently a considerable amount of controversy around this option now with the arguments against saying that these first aiders are just simply not qualified enough to address the sensitive nature of an individual’s mental health. In addition to this, the effectiveness of mental health first aid could be questionable. It would be so much more difficult for an individual to turn to a fellow colleague about their delicate issues in the fear that it wouldn’t be confidential and that they would feel judged. For mental health support to be truly effective in the workplace, the worker needs to feel that their sensitive information is kept separate from where they are directly working. Undoubtedly any kind of mental health support in the workplace is beneficial and the concept of MHFA provides an excellent opportunity of raising mental health awareness. But it is important to recognise that mental health first aiders are just one part of a larger overall picture in addressing mental health in the workplace.
There are currently many insurance companies out there offering ‘employee assistance programmes’ such as AXA, Bupa and Lifeworks. These companies offer very appealing packages but ultimately if an employee requires face to face counselling then the ‘eap provider’ will contract that work out to a local counsellor who will provide the therapy. It would make sense for businesses to consider missing out the middle person and engaging directly with the many capable counsellors and organisations that are directly on their doorstep. A good place to look for these counsellors are counselling websites such as ‘counselling directory’ or ‘psychology today’ where you will find details of only qualified and registered counsellors.
Ultimately a large portion of our life is spent at work and we must recognise that our work life often crosses over with our personal life and that each one will affect the other. If Sunderland is to grow and businesses are to succeed, then employers must recognise that they need to invest ‘effectively’ in their employees. It is also of great importance that employers regard this investment as a lot more than just a financial investment. They need to truly believe in the value of recognising their employees as people and be 100% genuine in their desire to support their staff. to create an effective working environment where mental health issues are openly discussed without fear of being judged or singled out then all members of the workforce need to be pulling in the same direction with transparency throughout.
In a nutshell, to effectively address mental issues in the workplace, employers need to genuinely recognise their employees as human beings. And as such human beings are prone to experiencing the ups and downs of life and that at times, we all need that little bit of extra support. If a working environment is created around this principle where employees feel free and able to share their experiences both at home and at work, then it will be without doubt a benefit for the company.
About the Author
Mark Walsh is an Armed Forces Veteran with a burning desire to change peoples opinions around Mental Health issues. Based at the BIC in Sunderland, the aim of Lighthouse Therapy Group is to create an environment where people feel safe to openly discuss any deep rooted life concerns which are causing them difficulties in their everyday lives.
For more information about Lighthouse Therapy or if you require any information on our bespoke employee assistance packages, then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lighthousetherapygroup.co.uk/
Photos courtesy of Sue Young, Articulate Photography