Safe trusting environment key to employee mental health

Inspiration can take many forms; a favourite track, a pithy truism, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the smile of a loved one. Stories have the power to compel, to inspire. Open, honest redemptive narratives perhaps inspire more than any other kind of story, especially if the chief protagonists are humble and humorous.

Listening to Johnny Benjamin, the author of The Stranger on the Bridge, recount his struggle with his mental health and subsequent aborted suicide attempt was poignant. Neil Laybourn the stranger, who stopped and spoke to Benjamin, persuading him to eventually climb back onto the pavement of Waterloo Bridge was powerful. Reunited four years later by a social media campaign launched with Rethink Mental Illness to ‘Find Mike’, whose real name was in fact Neil, the man who had coaxed Benjamin back from the brink in January 2008. The Find Mike campaign was estimated to have garnered 300 million views worldwide.

Now they are firm friends and brothers in arms in their campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues and, more specifically, male suicide. Benjamin and Laybourn’s campaigning has taken them across the world to schools, universities, prisons and into businesses, including the one where I work, which linked up to the mental health champions’ words via webcast.

Having the ability to empathise with others’ predicaments and the confidence to share our own concerns when they threaten to become too great. Laybourn described the need to “check in with ourselves” on a “one-to-one” basis as being crucial.

Encouraging good mental health in the workplace is a no brainer. Well employees are likely to be better motivated and perform close(r) to their full potential. The formula seems simple.  There are many concrete measures that companies can take beyond the usual flexible working arrangements that aim to improve employees’ work-life balance, including working from home, flexitime and salary sacrifice schemes are common. However, tangible strategies and schemes for employees with a mental health condition are thinner on the ground.

Wellness Action Plans (WAPs) are one tool that employees can use to support their mental health in the workplace.  Drawing on Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), WAPs:

1 Support the employee. Image © Zimbio New Zealand All Blacks IRB RWC 2011 Training Session.
2 Highlight symptoms, early warning signs and triggers. Image © Unisci24. 
3 Indicate how poor mental nealth might impact on the employee’s performance.
4 Explain what support they need from their line manager.
5 Provide positive steps for the employee to take if they are experiencing stress/poor health. Image ©Small Business Trends.
6 Establish an agreed time to see if the steps put in place are doing the job. Image ©  

Wellness Action Plan Graphic

Mind has two guides, one for managers and one for employees, that you can see here.

Follow Jonny Benjamin @mrjonnybenjamin and Neil Laybourn @neillaybourn.



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