“Nature” is the upcoming theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, drawing on evidence from the Foundation’s ongoing research into mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, which has shown that access to nature has been one of the main ways people have supported their mental health during the lockdowns and the ongoing restrictions that are placed on living lives as normal.
Many organisations will be starting to consider how to support Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from May 10th to 16th within their workplaces. Whilst managing mental health should be an integral part of working life every week of the year, there is an opportunity for workplaces to address some of the current concerns through the lens of the benefits of nature in our daily lives.
Lockdown 3, for many of us, has been particularly challenging. There have been frequent days, particularly over the dark winter months, where one Zoom call has merged into another, and both the opportunity and incentive to breach the walls of our home office and explore nature has been severely limited. Still, we can play a part in encouraging our teams to change this.
At Mental Health at Work, role modelling open conversations between colleagues about how we are feeling, is vital. During the past year, quite frankly, we’ve all spent too many hours behind our screens. In Jan, to be proactive about this, our team signed up to the Alzheimer’s Society Step up for Dementia with the aim of encouraging each other to leave our desks every day and walk, aiming to each clock up 850,000 over 3 months. During this time, we’ve all noticed and shared on our WhatsApp updates, nature, whether it is the sound of morning birdsong, a frosty cobweb, the first snowdrop or the flush of yellow daffodils, against all odds, breaking through concrete. We’ve inspired each other, increased connections across colleagues and the impact on our mental and physical health is noticeable. The Mental Health Foundation are launching a similar challenge for May, Take Action Get Active – 30 minutes of movement per day for the month – why not make this a team, department or organisational challenge, break up meetings and counteract ‘Zoom fatigue’, whilst raising awareness of good mental health for all.
If you have team check-ins, why not begin one during #MHAW21, asking each team member to highlight one aspect of nature that has helped them during the pandemic, re-enforcing the benefits and starting open conversations.
Many organisations will also use this week as an opportunity to raise awareness of signposting and support both within and external to the company, including your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), private healthcare, Samaritans and local Mind branch. This can focus on a virtual event or webinar either in its own right or part of a broader programme involving speakers and employees focussing on the elements of mental health support that have been important for them.
If you have an Employee Interest Group or a network of MHAW Mental Health Allies®, with roles as expert listeners and signposters, then this is an ideal opportunity to ask them to support virtual events around the most pressing themes. This could be around people who have expressed an interest in sharing their personal stories, ‘masterclass’ style events on a particular aspect of workplace mental health, guidance on how individuals can manage their own mental health and, of course, interweaving the theme of nature.
Green Ribbons are a symbol of awareness and support around mental health and in purchasing them you are making a donation to the Mental Health Foundation and their work to support good mental health for all. We can still proudly wear our green ribbons at home or download a virtual green ribbon to show support. As an organisation committed to the mental health of your people you may be interested in finding out how you can support the Mental Health Foundation in its mission to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. firstname.lastname@example.org or we would be happy to introduce you.
The Mental Health Foundation also produces many ‘How to’ guides around mental health, which are useful guides to make available for individuals to help them support and manage their own mental health.
Our important message for the workplace is that we need to talk about our mental health more through open, non-judgmental conversations, and ‘nature’ might be the introductory theme to do this. Listening to a colleague in many cases is enough to enable them to empty their bottle, but signposting for support might be the next stage. It is more challenging in a virtual world of work. Still, vitally important that we don’t take this as an opportunity to overlook a concern, and if we are to get to know our colleagues, it is the conversation that is important ………. and it can be about anything.