Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 – Loneliness and the Workplace
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s campaign is raising awareness of loneliness. One of the many effects of the pandemic has been to increase both the frequency and complexity of mental health issues, with people feeling isolated and lonely, even if they continued working.
The Mental Health Foundation created Mental Health Awareness Week 21 years ago, and it has become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally. The Foundation’s purpose is to drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all, helping people to understand, protect and sustain their mental health. For 2022, the Mental Health Foundation is raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the steps we can take to address it.
We chatted with Kisi Kent, Service Manager for the NHS Steps2Wellbeing for North Dorset to explore more about people’s wellbeing in the workplace, the impact of the pandemic, and what we can do if we need help and advice.
Tell us a little bit about Steps2Wellbeing?
“Steps2Wellbeing is a team of NHS Therapists who offer a variety of therapies for mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Work is recognised as a huge factor in people’s wellbeing, and we collaborate with a team of employment advisors to support people to find work or stay in work.”
Why is it important to increase awareness about mental health and wellbeing?
“Mental health problems have long been a common issue with a quarter of people likely to experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. We talk to lots of people experiencing mental health problems at work, with around 15% of the workforce likely to have mental health problems at any one time. Evidence suggests that depression alone is the most expensive illness globally in terms of its economic impact through lost workdays, reduced productivity, sick pay, and cost of care. For instance, almost 13% of sickness absence in the UK is attributable to poor mental health.” (2)
What impact on mental health has the pandemic had for people?
“Since the pandemic both the frequency and complexity of mental health problems have increased. For some people, work will have contributed to the deterioration in mental health during the pandemic, particularly if they worked from home. I have seen factors such as the lack of designated space to work from home, the struggle to separate work and homelife, employers using invasive surveillance technology to check work productivity, and feelings of isolation, all contributing to work related stress.”
“Women have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Typically, we have seen that women took the main responsibility for home schooling, whilst still trying to juggle work and running the household. Therefore, it is no surprise that women in full time work are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as men (3).”
“It is also important to recognise that for many people, working from home has been a positive experience with people not wanting to return to the office. It really does depend on the environment that someone is working in, and the amount of autonomy and support employers give their staff. We know from research that the biggest risk factor for employment burnout is lack of control over work and being micromanaged.”
Why do you think this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focused on loneliness?
“Alongside unemployment and work-related difficulties being a risk factor for mental health, loneliness also plays a huge role in our mental health and wellbeing. The pandemic resulted in enforced isolation, affecting our connectedness with others. We missed out on seeing our family and friends in a social way, and our work habits changed. Whilst its true to say that working from home can worsen loneliness, it is also possible to be in a busy work environment and still feel isolated from colleagues if everybody is busy with their work, or socially distancing.”
What advice can you give people who are experiencing loneliness right now?
“The first thing I will say is that you are not alone. If you are feeling lonely in your work environment, then it is likely that others will also be feeling lonely. Be brave and try to organise regular lunches or walks with colleagues, others will be grateful for the company too. If you work from home, you can still organise social get togethers. At a team meeting ask people to brainstorm ideas for simple social activities that can be done either in person or via a video chat. I have set up a weekly drop in lunch for my staff so that there is a protected space for people to meet up and have a chat.”
“If you are discussing a work-related issue with a colleague, take a few extra moments to ask them about how their day has gone or tell them a little about your day. This will help to build connections with your colleagues and make you feel closer to them. If you notice someone is particularly quiet and tends to be very reserved, make an extra effort to talk to them. It may be that they are just shy and need extra support to build connections.”
What if people are nervous about putting themselves out there?
“If all of this feels daunting and you are experiencing negative thoughts such as ‘if I arrange something no one will come’, or ‘I will make a fool of myself’ or ‘people won’t like me’, then remind yourself that these are just thoughts, not facts. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was having these thoughts. You can also consider talking to us at Steps2Wellbeing about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you shift your perspective.”
After the last couple years of being told to self-isolate and social distance, its no surprise that it is having a toll on our mental health and wellbeing, particularly with our work environments going through so much change. Mental Health Awareness Week is a chance to see other people’s stories, gain a new perspective and find support and understanding. You can find out more about the Foundation and this year’s campaign here Mental Health Awareness Week.
Steps2Wellbeing in Dorset
If you would like to learn more about the support available from Kisi’s team you can visit the Steps2Wellbeing website. There’s lots of information and resources available and you can refer yourself to their service by heading to the Steps2Wellbeing self-referral online form. Alternatively, you can call them on 0300 790 6828.
We also offer our temporary workers a confidential counselling service helpline. If you’d like to find out more about this our team will be happy to help.
- Mental Health Foundation website 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace
- Mental Health Foundation website Mental health statistics: 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions
- Mental Health Foundation website Mental health statistics: Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%)