This 3rd February marks Time to Talk, an awareness day that encourages us to make time to talk about mental health. With one in four of us experiencing mental ill health in a year(1), these conversations are so important.
The day is organised by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and aims to help everyone feel comfortable talking about mental health. Conversations help to reduce stigma, spread awareness, and create supportive communities among friends, family and colleagues.
Our top tips for talking about mental health
Sign-up for training
This year, one of our priorities for supporting the team’s mental health is to grow our team of mental health first-aiders. I am the first in the team to be qualified (Louise, Client & Brand Purpose Director) and throughout the year we plan to elect and train even more Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). Just as with a physical first aid course, MHFA training gives the skills, strategies and confidence to look after your own mental health, and to support others. The course is developed by Mental Health First Aid England, and run in our area by West Kent Mind – our local mental health charity.
There’s a particular focus on caring for colleagues, including symptoms and signs to look out for, as well as ways to support. There are also lots of resources, and a pathway for helping people access further help.
Walk and talk
Sometimes, starting conversations around our or others’ mental health can feel unusual, and out of the comfort zone. We find getting out of the office for an informal walk and talk can be really helpful. Something about the fresh air helps the conversation to flow freely, and talking about difficult subjects can feel easier when you’re not face to face.
We’re lucky in that our office is set in the beautiful countryside, with easy access to a footpath. Somehow, walking side by side can make all the difference and help people to open up. Borrowing the office dog to come with you is also a nice idea!
Stick the kettle on
It’s an oldie but a goodie. Whether it’s tea, coffee, or just a glass of squash, making someone a drink is an age-old way of showing you care, and that you’re keen to start up a conversation. The act of waiting by the kettle while it boils can also encourage a spontaneous natter, which can be otherwise tricky to make time for during the busy working day. During Time to Talk day, why not take 10 minutes to make someone a cuppa and ask them how they’re doing. How they’re really doing.
Be a mentor
Mentoring might feel a little more formal, but it’s something we’re proud to run at Catch A Fire. It’s a great way of supporting all members of the team, whether they’re brand new or have been with us for years. Our team bond is strong here, so ensuring new sparks feel welcome and cared for is especially important. Either becoming a mentor yourself, or asking someone to mentor you can create a lovely, close relationship that starts with career discussions and evolves into a supportive working friendship.
Give technology its place
We find this one is two-fold. It can take a lot of courage to ask someone to lend an ear, so it’s important to give them your full attention. It sounds obvious, but the ping of a Slack notification or ‘urgent’ email will distract you from the conversation and could make the person withdraw.
When someone opens up about their mental health, it’s key they feel listened to. Whenever possible, we try to close the laptop, put the phone face down, and maybe even walk away from the desk altogether so we can listen actively and listen without interruptions.
Equally, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable having a chat face to face, an online video or phone call can open the way to talking about difficult things. The same goes for workplace chats such as Slack or Teams. It can sometimes feel easier to articulate thoughts and feelings by typing or writing them down, especially if someone is feeling emotional.
For many, working from home has become the norm. And this increased flexibility has shone a light on just how productive and healthy this can be. We’re lucky that remote and flexible working has always been a part of Catch A Fire life. An adaptable, hybrid approach focusing on the work you do and not where you do it. But it’s important to us that we’re always being as accommodating as we can in helping our teams to find their healthy work life balance. As a team, we offer remote working and flexi-hours, but we all still come into the office, as we believe it’s good for team bonding, smoother communications, productivity, and each others’ mental health.
Overall, however, it’s about more than location and working hours. It’s about talking and listening to each other. It’s about understanding what each person needs to thrive. And it’s about showing that person they’ve been heard, and that you’re there to help them and walk side by side with them whatever the next step is.
If you or anyone you know would like more information, there’s a wealth of free resources on the MHFA website, including remote working guidance. The NHS Every Mind Matters website is also a hive of helpful tips and resources.