Break the Silence
Promoting Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace – Leo O’Hara
Strategic priority must be given to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, with formal awareness training provided to management and employees as part of an overall plan – driven from the top down. With over 25 years’ experience with An Garda Siochana, lecturer, coach and mentor Leo O’Hara of Resileo Training described the value of breaking the silence on mental illness at the itag AtlanTec Festival.
O’Hara set about debunking the myths surrounding mental health and explained that anyone with a mental health challenge can perform effectively in the workplace once consideration is given to their emotional wellbeing. Participants at the itag AtlanTec Festival heard how one in ten workers are affected by depression and anxiety every year. The majority are afraid to speak out due to a fear of stigma and discrimination. While stress is not a clinical disorder, anyone with a diagnosed mental illness can and do perform effectively at work with the right tools in place. The answer is to encourage wellbeing daily and for O’Hara, “it is more than fruit spread around the office.”
Mental health and wellbeing are connected. By focusing on our wellbeing, we can make strides in the workplace and have a positive impact on our mental health – Leo O’Hara.
What can companies do?
- Create a mental health and wellbeing plan.
- Reduce stigma.
- Make mental health and wellness a strategic priority.
- Invest in mental health and wellbeing in the same way as physical safety.
- Routinely monitor employee mental health.
- Management and employees need awareness and training, tools and resources.
Start the Conversation:
The sharing of personal experience drove engagement and interaction throughout the session as participants felt comfortable responding to questions about mental health. This demonstrated how the ability to connect and communicate on the issue is vital and businesses need to look at ways to make the disclosure experience easier. It is as simple as showing an interest and starting the conversation. An environment must be created where speaking up is “enabled, encouraged and expected,” according to O’Hara.
Employees are afraid to speak out for many reasons including shame, a fear of being considered weak and the impact this could have on promotion opportunities. In turn, managers are concerned about overstepping professional boundaries and are unsure of the right questions to ask. O’Hara advised participants at the itag AtlanTec Festival to be conscious of how they speak to people. Managers are encouraged to ask open questions, listen without judgement, be patient and show empathy. “Ask how can I help? I want you to know I’m here to listen and I care what you have to say,” he said.
End the Stigma:
Stigma drives silence. The less people talk about mental health at work the more the stigma takes hold with subsequent difficulties for early diagnosis and treatment. For O’Hara, there is a benchmark and a platform for dealing with situations where people are struggling. Breaking the silence on mental illness encourages employees to seek the help they need. He described the ending of the pandemic as “a fantastic opportunity” as people have been “challenged in a way they have never experienced before.”
A Gender Divide?
Statistics surrounding the high level of suicide among men struck a note of warning at the session. With 80% female participation at O’Hara’s talk on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, the question was posed whether this was reflective of society at large – was a gender divide emerging in relation to mental health. “Men find it challenging to talk,” said O’Hara. “It is a massive problem. In 2018, 56,000 people took their own life in the EU of which 75% were male.”
Leo O’Hara of Resileo Training looks at ways to improve wellbeing at the itag AtlanTec Festival 2021.
- A person with a mental illness can flourish with the right tools in place.
- Reduce stigma – encourage people to talk.
- Take a proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing.
- Business must make it a strategic priority.
- A top-down approach is required – leaders must lead on the issue.