How not to make a drama out of a crisis

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK which found that only a small minority of people (13%) have high levels of good mental health. In America, May is Mental Health month. 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in the US, and 18% of US adults experienced and anxiety disorder in the past year according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Last year, the EU convened a conference in Brussels to form its Framework for Action on Mental Health and Wellbeing. There is a growing body of evidence that mental health problems in Europe are growing. Mental disorders represent 22% of the EU’s burden of disability and are highly prevalent across Europe, burdening individuals, society and the economy. The overall financial costs of mental disorders, including direct medical as well as indirect costs through care and lost productivity, amount to more than €450 billion per year in the EU.

We all have mental health and yet sometimes in life we can find that we have crises which impacts our mental health leading to stress, burnout and, if not addressed, ill health such as anxiety or depression. Certainly, having a meaningful work role gives us purpose, a structure and a sense of belongingness. Being employed is good for our mental wellbeing especially when the job is well designed and relationships with colleagues and our boss is supportive. In its latest study, the Mental Health Foundation found that 85% of people out of work have experienced a mental health problem compared to two thirds of people in work and just over half of people who have retired.

I have recently co-authored a book with Rick Hughes and Professor Sir Cary Cooper researching all the difficulties that emerge in our home and work lives; the sort of things that can get out of hand, which can lead to a crisis and trigger presenteeism or absence. We found 70 different topics within five clusters including life events through to managing emotions and moods to work stressors and work skills and set about teasing apart the best ‘tips’ to improve coping. 

The Crisis Book’ emerged from this and since publication in March 2017, we have found that organizations are really keen to use the book to ‘start the conversation’. They want to normalize work-life crisis situations, to accept they happen, and to allow people to engage and communicate, to seek out options and solutions, ask for and receive help. 

Out of the 1000 or so pieces of guidance tips, this is our ‘Top 10’ for how to deal with a crisis situation.

  1. Doing something is often better than doing nothing
  2. Anticipate and embrace change as your friend, not your enemy
  3. Look after yourself by moderating diet, exercise and sleep
  4. Build strong positive relationships at home and at work
  5. Identify your stress triggers and how best to manage them
  6. Appreciate that any life event has the potential for losses and gains
  7. Seek out control by giving yourself choices
  8. You might not be able to change the situation but you can change how you think, feel and behave
  9. Have a reality-check and resist the fears than may never happen
  10. Ask for help… you might just get what you need

Ask yourself, some of these questions to reflect on your coping mechanisms:

When you had your last crisis, what did you do?

When you have your next crisis, what can you do differently?

For all Atos employees (and their families) an interactive wellbeing website has been made available which highlights the importance of mental health and provides many hints and tactics to maintain our wellbeing. Other employers are training staff in mental first aid, such as the Wellcome Trust, which puts particular focus on prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.

As Mark Rowland of the Mental Health Foundation aptly put it, “resilience is not genetically inherited. It can be learned and strengthened (and shared). Our vulnerabilities and struggles don’t disqualify us; they can form the bedrock for good mental health.”

About Andrew Kinder

As OH Assist’ Chief Psychologist, Andrew Kinder takes a lead on delivering its Wellbeing@work programme, which works globally to improve the health and wellbeing of its employees. Andrew has made a unique contribution in the area of counselling in the workplace over the last 15 years. He has been a leader in this specialist field work over this period, serving on the Executive Committee of the BACP Workplace (formerly Association for Counselling at Work). He has also promoted workplace counselling through committee work at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association. He was recently awarded a Fellowship by BACP.