Making Work Work: Managing Mental Health Issues

Published on 19 August 2021 at 3:58 pm #AProblemShared #Anxiety #Depression #feelingvulnerable #Griefisolation #loneliness #meninwhitecoats #mentalhealth #OldWounds #Shame

Managing Mental Health Issues

It’s not about men in white coats

Mental health issues are being talked about as never before, which is a very good thing. However, many managers are, not surprisingly, unskilled and/or uncomfortable in discussing these issues with their employees.

Until recently, the general perception among a lot of people was that mental health meant being carted off and sectioned. It meant serious breakdowns and scarily erratic behaviour.

Now, there are obviously situations where people are sectioned and do exhibit erratic and scary behaviour, but those are not the sole definitions of what poor mental health means.

Depression, Anxiety and Grief

Fortunately, there is a greater recognition that mental health isn’t just about extremes: many people have been and are suffering with greater feelings of depression, anxiety, grief and the fallout from high levels of uncertainty.

Much of this has been created or exacerbated by the pandemic.

Certainly, the deaths or illness of loved ones will have a great impact, as well as someone being ill themselves (whether from COVID or other conditions).

By recognising that mental health issues are commonplace, that just about all of us will have experienced some form of distress, worry, depression, etc., at some point(s) in our lives, makes it easier for us to talk about it and do something to help restore our well-being and the well-being of others.


As I said, many of these issues have come to the fore during the pandemic, which may have been both the cause and/or the trigger for people’s inability to handle their stress and concerns.

Many people were thrust into isolation and loneliness with little support to ease their separation anxieties; others were thrown into family dynamics that couldn’t sustain the pressure of everyone being at home.

Adapting and adjusting to this new world has been extremely hard for a lot of people and they have simply not coped well at all.

Old Wounds

These distresses can also be looked at from another perspective: that new traumas can trigger old wounds to resurface.

Often when we feel vulnerable, we are transported back to a time when we didn’t necessarily have the resilience or skills to deal with what was happening to us.

Those wounds may have been buried, but not necessarily healed and once these massive changes were imposed, they burst open again.

This may be particularly true for people experiencing bereavement (and bereavement doesn’t necessarily only have to do with death; it can also be about any situation relating to loss), where feelings of isolation and enforced seclusion mirror earlier painful losses.

Whatever the cause, people’s anguish, apprehension and sense of helplessness are real and extra caring support is essential.

Don’t Ignore It

This is one area that simply cannot be swept under the carpet with the hopes it will go away. People may be physically returning to the workplace feeling very vulnerable, feeling unable to cope, concerned about other people’s judgements and behaviour.

Equally, people who continue to work from home may be struggling emotionally and will need sensitive, additional support and empathy.

Clearly, one blog can’t provide answers to such complex issues that may present themselves. However, there are a few ‘rules of thumb’ that should help you if you are experiencing these emotions yourself or are managing people who are going through a difficult time.

Wall of Shame

For those in distress, there is only one vital piece of advice and one ‘rule of thumb’: tell people what’s going on; don’t keep it to yourself.

For so many years there has been a wall of shame people have had to scale to even admit they are having difficulty coping.

In the current circumstances, that wall has been greatly reduced and therefore, this is a very good time to bring these issues to your trusted friends and family, your GP and, of course, your manager.

Avoid dressing it up, making light of it or minimising the impact life is having on you right now.

A Problem Shared

There is that cliché that says a problem shared is a problem halved.

Well, I’m not quite a believer that the problem is halved, but it can certainly be eased by letting others know that things aren’t so good for you.

For those managing others in distress, your ‘rules of thumb’ are:

Let others share their emotions without dismissing them, offering advice or telling them it will all be fine and time is a great healer. Acknowledging where people are at will ease the situation enough so that you can both explore what needs to happen next.

It’s OK to ask for additional support to be able to support others. Most managers are simply not equipped to handle mental health issues on the scale we are seeing now. You may need to seek advice to get some help in identifying what could be most useful.

Helping someone articulate what’s going on for them may be just what they need to be able to talk to their GP or seek the help of a counsellor or other professional.

The well-being of your people is the foundation for the well-being of your organisation.

You may need to take far more time and effort than you were expecting in order to gain an understanding of what may be going on for some members of your staff and how you can help.

You can join Jo Ellen at her next Agony Aunt Hour on Thursday 12th May 2022 for an open discussion on Mental Health and any questions (anonymous or not) you would like to ask.