Abigail Hirshman, Acas head of workplace mental health, speaks to Amit Sen, Acas senior business manager.
[Caption: Abigail and Amit talk about looking after your mental health at work]
Abigail Hirshman: For you, yourself Amit, what would you say are the signs that maybe you need a bit of extra help at times?
Amit Sen: I think one of the issues with being in relative isolation is that our minds don't switch off. So you start to think about usually bad things.
People don't normally think about great things, you know – "I'm going to go and have a swim today", or something like that. You start to think of the more negative things because your overall context – especially if you watch a lot of television, as I do, television news, and so on – is uniformly bleak.
So all sorts of irrational fears come into your mind, which normally you probably wouldn't entertain.
Abigail: Yeah, definitely. So fears and anxieties seem to grow on each other.
So in terms of a more practical support from the organisation that you work for – that your colleagues, or you know, other people you know work for – what would you say may be helpful, then, to find out from their line manager when they're feeling like this? What sort of conversations would be helpful?
Amit: So I think the secret, I would say – and I understand that this would vary from one person to another – is to have informal conversations as normally as you normally would. And the other thing I would say is have them frequently.
I think the worst thing is to do is just sit there, week after week, feeling miserable. And then when you're really feeling down, suddenly, to phone a colleague or your boss or whoever it might be, and share those views then. I think the real secret is to keep in relatively regular touch. Because that's the key, I think, to maintaining a degree of normality. Rather than let things just drift.
Abigail: Yeah. And that is absolutely spot on. I mean, it's essentially about having those sort of organic conversations where things about mental health and wellbeing – what you're doing to keep yourself well, and what's concerning you – just come up naturally in those interactions. So the more you have, the more likely you are to have those conversations.
And to get in early, as you said, before it starts to seem really difficult, actually. And then it's much harder to voice those concerns, when they've started to sort of grow in your mind.
Amit: That's right.
Abigail: And in terms of people who maybe are less confident, or less articulate, or less able to ask those questions of their manager: is there any advice that you would give to somebody who maybe is new to the workplace, or less confident to be able to have those conversations?
Amit: It is good to be able to speak to your line manager, let's say. But you also have to recognise that line managers may not necessarily be the best person, always, in a particular situation. Are there friends in whom you can trust to confide in, or colleagues?
Use the available resources that you have. I mean, to take another example: I talk to my son pretty much every day, even though he's overseas at the moment. My advice would be, think of who you are comfortable with. And try and bring those people into your sort of environment, into your sort of electronic world, and engage with them to the extent that you want and to the extent that you need.
And the other thing I would say is: you might be able to help them. It's not always a one-way thing. You may be able to help them.
Abigail: So I'm really glad to hear from you today Amit. I think you've really given some great tips for colleagues and employers and employees who listen to this. Thank you very much.
Amit: My pleasure. Good talking to you, Abigail. Thanks a lot.
[Caption: For more guidance on mental health: www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus-mental-health]