Archive by Author | Bharti Lim

Mental health for all should mean ‘all’

The 10th October is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘mental health for all’.

After the year we have had I think that theme is very appropriate as the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, not seeing friends and family, not being at school as well as the loss of friends and family have all had a huge impact on our mental health.

More and more people will suffer mental health issues

A report by the centre for mental health published this month states:

“Nationally, in England, the model predicts that up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis. 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18.”

Mental health in the younger generation

When we went into lockdown my biggest concern was actually my children’s mental health.  Whilst we traditionally concern ourselves with whether or not our children are happy, we rarely stop to think about their mental health.  In fact, it is not a topic you usually associate with children.

But they have had to deal with so much that is new to them in 2020:  lockdown, school closures and social distancing.  I have never spent so much time with my children stuck inside the house before, especially at this age.  They lost so many social interaction opportunities with anyone else outside of our immediate family, and on top of that they have experienced home schooling with yours truly as a teacher!

My children are still quite young so the impact on their mental health may not be the same as older children who will be more aware of what is going on in the world.

  • 11 years old children have missed out on graduations or prom as they move up to secondary school.
  • In addition to missing out on school events, 16/18 year olds have had the uncertainty of important exams and University places to consider.  All of these are hard enough at the best of times.

For any parent struggling with how to support their children during Covid I highly recommend www.youngminds.co.uk.  One of their articles said:

We carried out a survey with 2,036 young people with a history of mental health needs between Friday 6th June and Monday 5th July, a period in which the Government announced measures to ease restrictions, including the target for schools to reopen to all students in the Autumn term.

The results reveal that:

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. 41% said it had made their mental health “much worse”, up from 32% in the previous survey in March. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.
  • 87% of respondents agreed that they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71% had been able to stay in touch with friends. 
  • Among more than 1,000 respondents who were accessing mental health support in the three months leading up the crisis (including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines), 31% said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it.
  • Of those who had not been accessing support immediately before the crisis, 40% said that they had not looked for support but were struggling with their mental health
  • 11% of respondents said that their mental health had improved during the crisis, an increase from 6% in the previous survey. This was often because they felt it was beneficial to be away from the pressures of their normal life (e.g. bullying or academic pressure at school)

I’m quite lucky.  My children’s primary school sent out information during the pandemic about how to support children’s mental health.  They have made plans to celebrate World Mental Health Day at school by asking children to wear a yellow accessory.

The school has held discussions about feelings, mental wellbeing and coping mechanisms.  More schools should be including this as part of the education they provide.

But this level of support shouldn’t be limited to just whilst we are living with the pandemic.  What’s more  carers and parents should have easy access to resources that can help them to better support their children at all times.

Mental health issues in parents

I had a conversation with a friend during the lockdown who was struggling with home schooling her daughter.  When she told me that she would get into arguments with her daughter and that it was hard to juggle home schooling with her own work, I offered the following advice:

“Focus on her mental health and your mental health. Catching up with work and schoolwork might take a few months but it will take years for your mental health to recover.”

My friend described a sense of release.  She was relieved that she wasn’t alone in feeling like she had been feeling. My response to her was, “I didn’t want to force him to learn when he wanted to play, I didn’t want to argue with him to sit at a table, he was already going through so much change.”

She has since thanked me for sharing my experience. It helped make the rest of their lockdown a more pleasant experience. It’s so easy to forget when under pressure what is important and what can wait.

Many parents have described the feeling of inadequacy that comes from reading social media posts from other parents. It can easily seem like they have the perfect life – they were having an amazing time and doing super cool things with their children. It is easy to feel like I wasn’t ‘doing enough’ too.  Unintentionally or not, posts can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing.  The knock-on effect is that it doesn’t help the children either.

Once children start nursery or school, they are typically away from us 7-8 hours a day.  During lockdown, I suddenly had to get used to having the children around 24 hours a day.

My children have gone to nursery from the age of 1.  The transition to working with our children at home has been difficult.  I am lucky that I have a role that is relatively flexible and a great employer.  The first thing our Divisional Director did issue a message to all staff about working under lockdown conditions.  He explained that we were entering unchartered territory and that we shouldn’t feel bad about children or pets interrupting our calls – something that definitely happened to me.

This was invaluable guidance, because at a stroke, it took the pressure off everyone working from home.

I cannot imagine how people cope if their employer is less understanding or if you were in a role that requires you to be at your desk during set hours.

I am fortunate that I already had a home office.  I have heard stories of parents working around the children in the kitchen or even the living room, or even taking turns at using the only workable table.

Covid must be one of the most stressful times we have ever had to experience.  Trying to combine entertaining the children and find time to home school older children will have affected so many parents.

Mental health in frontline NHS staff

We all know what these heroes have done and continue to do during the crisis. And as much as the applause, retail discounts and the public gratitude means to them, I cannot begin to think what they must have been going through mentally.

I watched the BBC documentary Surviving the Virus: My Brother & Me and although I was aware this has been hard for the hospitals and their staff, it was an eye-opening experience watching the documentary.

The helplessness that they all felt, the uncertainty of having a job where you no longer have any control, seeing all that grief it was enough to bring anyone to tears.

You have to feel for the admin teams struggling to get PPE, medical equipment, manage staff and avoid burnout. There is not enough clapping that can be done for these heroes.  But what I worry the most about is how this will have affected them mentally.

How easy will it be for them to get the support they need?  When will it really dawn on them what they have been through?  This is trauma and it can take years to manifest.

The British Medical Association carried out research in May. It found that one in five doctors feel they do not have access to the help that they need.  45% of doctors are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout or other mental health conditions relating to, or made worse by, the COVID-19 crisis.

It is essential that support is put in place for the NHS staff. Not just for now but long term.  Therapy is vital but also support for time off, some flexibility in working, and also other support methods.

There are of course many more vulnerable groups such as those living alone, the elderly and those that have been shielding.  Then there are the mums to be who have had to go to medical visits alone.  Some have lost babies and had to deal go through this with no one to hold their hand.

Patients with other illnesses have also suffered, as have their families.  The list goes on, I have only looked at 3 groups.  Every single person has suffered in some way.  Some may have found a way to get through and others may have struggled more.

Access to therapy has been limited over the past 6 months.  Ditto for medical support.  So, what can businesses do to help their employees?

How are your employees coping?

We have a workforce that is largely working remotely.  Some people will be thriving and others not doing so well. There needs to be some way to check in with people.  A questionnaire might work well in the absence of physical check-ins.

A lot of virtual events sprung up, especially during the early part of lockdown but the world of work has not moved on with most people still working from home.  More team/company events are still required so colleagues can still feel connected to each other.

Some employees that must attend their place of work may also be struggling due to using public transport. They may be worried about safety when working inside a building and alongside other people.  We shouldn’t assume that they are okay just because they are back in the workplace.

Are mental health services such as a mental health first aiders available to staff?  Is it available without any judgement or stigma if employees choose to use the service? Is the availability of these services clearly signposted across the organisation on the intranet?

These services should be confidential and easy to access.  The NHS support and charities are really struggling with the sheer volume of people contacting them.  Could employers help ease the burden by offering their employees more assistance and thus reduce the burden faced by the NHS and charities?  There are some great resources for organisations offered by the charities and they are always happy to talk in more detail about options.

  • Mind has lots of useful resources of how your organisation can be prepared to help their employees that may be struggling. Training for mental health first aider and and e-learning courses are also available.
  • Mind has lots of useful resources of how your organisation can be prepared to help their employees that may be struggling. Training for mental health first aider and and e-learning courses are also available.

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/training-consultancy/e-learning/

  • The mental health foundation also has lots of information around supporting mental health at work. The PDF has lots of useful information about different ideas that can be used to create a mental wellbeing programme and advice.
  • Acas – the workplace expert in the UK. Acas has a framework for positive mental health at work which can be downloaded.
  • The mental health foundation also has lots of information around supporting mental health at work. The PDF has lots of useful information about different ideas that can be used to create a mental wellbeing programme and advice.
  • Acas – the workplace expert in the UK. Acas has a framework for positive mental health at work which can be downloaded.

If your organisation doesn’t offer much in the way of support, maybe you could suggest some ideas to the right people in the organisation, how you feel things could be improved.  There is a lot of information out there regarding the support available to organisations. The above links are a good place to start.

How I deal with stress

In several of my previous blogs I have talked about the role that exercise plays in my mental health.

I consider myself to be very fortunate to work at an organisation that focuses on this quite heavily. At Computacenter, they have provided access to a Community Online resource that features lots of online content that is delivered live every Thursday and is also available on demand.

There are many fitness, well-being and mindfulness sessions to name but a few.  It goes much further than that – there are sessions for children of all ages, and you can dip in and watch as many or as few as you like.

A happier employee is a more productive employee.  We should all be looking out for each other at time when we have never been so far apart.

After all, mental health support should be open to everyone, and the more people that receive support, the better off we will all be as a whole.

What to do if you’re struggling with your mental health

If you are struggling with your mental health and need to talk to someone the following charities can help, please do reach out to them and don’t suffer in silence:

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/

https://youngminds.org.uk/