Olivia Moore, Careers and Wellbeing Manager at the Law Society of Scotland, discusses how marking mental health days can help employers take an active role in supporting their staff. Organisations can sign up to our mental health calendar, which lists major events in the year and we can email you reminders ahead of them taking place.
When we talk to workplaces about mental health and how they can support staff, one of the things that we at the Society, and many mental health charities, suggest is participating in mental health campaigns like Time to Talk Day, Stress Awareness Week or World Mental Health Day.
Yet, it’s easy to think that taking part in such events is just a tick-box exercise or an ‘easy fix’ that might help employers look good but doesn’t actually deal with mental health issues and concerns within the workplace.
To be honest, I used to be a bit sceptical about their purpose, largely for these very reasons. But the longer I have been involved in Lawscot Wellbeing and the mental health agenda more generally, the more I have realised how powerful they can be. In fact, I think we should all participate in mental health days as colleagues and workplaces and here are my five top reasons why.
Plus, to get you started, we’ve pulled together a mental health calendar to help you get some dates in the diary and take action.
1. Campaigns help us all be more knowledgeable and confident about mental health
Some of us know a lot about mental health and some of us don’t. Participating in campaigns can really help us educate ourselves on things like key statistics, different mental health conditions, red flags and how to support someone with their mental health.
Campaigns give us a chance to listen and learn, which is something we know the profession is keen to do. In fact, according to our 2019 survey, 77% of respondents actively want a better understanding of mental health problems, so they would know what to say/do to accommodate someone. Currently though, confidence and knowledge are lacking, so there is a real appetite for more literacy.
And, while it’s important for everyone to increase their knowledge and understanding, it’s particularly important if you manage a team of people. It’s part of your job to understand your team’s pastoral as well as professional needs, but we know a lack of confidence can be a major barrier to managers talking to staff about how they are feeling. Managers don’t have to see themselves as counsellors– that is the job of a medical professional. But it is a manager’s job to understand how the workplace can support someone who needs it, by asking the right questions and by being open and supportive.
2. They’re easy to take part in
Mental health days don’t have to take up lots of time and resource. Joining in with a campaign is free and most mental health calendar days have annual themes and downloadable resources online that you can share with your staff, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
The launch itself doesn’t need to be complicated either. Perhaps you could organise for some people within the organisation to send an email or write a blog about their interest in the theme or why it’s important to be involved. They could nominate others to do the same and get the office talking. You could share some relevant content on social media and maybe encourage another workplace to get involved too.
Also, engaging in a campaign doesn’t have to be the job of HR or senior leaders only. Anyone interested in mental health in the workplace could get involved, which could help bring some fresh ideas and voices to the conversation.
3. Participating in campaigns breaks down stigma…
We don’t want there to be any stigma associated with speaking about mental health in the legal profession or needing support. Fortunately, most of our members are absolutely bought into this goal, but there is still some way to go. In our 2019 survey, 24% of respondents had observed or were aware of stigmatising attitudes towards mental health in their organisation.
Getting involved in campaigns is a really effective way to break down such stigma, because they’re about having open conversations, starting a positive dialogue, and will send out a positive signal to staff and others about your organisation’s attitude to mental health.
Remember, there will be an expectation that positive actions and commitments will follow, otherwise employees really will get frustrated that it’s just a tick-box exercise. But you don’t have to do everything all at once- getting involved in campaigns is a great place to start and build from.
4. …which leads to less discrimination
Campaigns can educate us about the realities of mental health, challenge our biases and celebrate role models and positive behaviours, which can all inform our actions. The more stigma is reduced and literacy and empathy become the norm, the less we should see a prevalence of discrimination regarding mental health. Whether that’s perceptions of how well someone can perform a task based on their resilience, someone not being picked for a project or even hired in the first place, there is no room for discrimination in the legal profession. The more vocal we all are about this, the better.
5. When leaders speak out, it can have a massive impact
The voices of leaders can be particularly powerful in mental health campaigns, especially where personal stories are concerned. Everyone’s contributions are important, regardless of their role in the organisation, but there’s a reason that senior leaders opening up about mental health can have such a big impact: it shows that managing mental health isn’t a barrier to professional success.
We have learned from our partnership with See Me and collaboration with LawCare that enabling people to share their own experiences is one of the best things you can do for the conversation around mental health. Having people speak out and be role models helps bring stories to life and personalise the conversation, bringing it closer to home.
We also know how hard it is to encourage people to share, largely because of stigma. But if you can encourage colleagues to be open, perhaps starting small, it will really help accelerate the conversation and foster a more open culture. Having senior leaders lead the charge will signal to people that sharing is safe. Have a look at some of the blogs and videos from our recent Pass the Badge campaign for some inspirational examples.