Maureen Herbert: Employers need to promote good mental health during stressful times

Maureen-HerbertWinter can be a particularly challenging time for our mental health. Not only do the days grow shorter and colder, but we also have to contend with a number of added pressures, like Christmas and heating bills, that do not occur during the warmer months.

In certain cases, this can lead to the development of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is a form of depression specific to the winter months that is signified by a lack of energy and poor morale. Periods of SAD can last for days at a time and negatively affect employees’ mental health.

Employers have a specific role to play during this time. The weeks leading up to Christmas can be very stressful, and the promotion of good mental health is extremely important. Everyone should be encouraged to take regular short breaks and get fresh air to keep themselves healthy.

Encouraging a working environment where it is possible to openly discuss mental wellbeing is a great way to reduce the pressures that people might be under. Talking about problems is a good way to feel better, but people will not immediately share if they do not think it is appropriate to do so. This can lead to them bottling their emotions up, making them feel worse rather than feeling like they can share.

The most effective thing an employer can do is to lead by example. There will be times when staff feel that they can open up. On these occasions, it is important for employers to be non-judgemental and receptive to what they are being told. It is ok if they do not immediately understand, but it can be damaging to the employee if they are not treated respectfully.

Maureen Herbert is the associate director of HR and learning at Rethink Mental Illness