Mental Health In The Workplace

Mental Health In The Workplace

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An Introduction to Mental Health in the Workplace

Increasingly, good mental health in the workplace is an issue being raised. Job stresses are being recognized as affecting work performance and also an individual’s over-all well-being. There is a lot of information available about how to promote good mental health in the workplace but perhaps insufficient initiatives actually being used. Providing employees with information promoting good mental health alerts them to the problems but may not achieve the solutions. Within the larger society good physical health is overwhelmingly accepted as the first step to good mental health. Can mental health issues in the workplace be addressed in the same way, by
first promoting improved physical well-being?

Nutrition and Diet
The benefits of good nutrition are important for everyone at home and at work. Good health begins with a good breakfast. People who have a morning meal are more likely to take in more vitamins and minerals, and much less fat and cholesterol. (WebMD, 2008) The effect is often a leaner body and less chance of overeating and going to the vending machine during work hours. Researchers at the 2003 American Heart Association conference reported that breakfast eaters have a lower chance of being obese and getting diabetes. Another study in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition concluded that people that eat breakfast cereal daily feel better both physically and mentally compared to the people who almost never ate cereal for breakfast. A Web MD article explains “To get the full benefits of breakfast, the Mayo Clinic recommends a meal with carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. They say that because no single food gives you all of the nutrients you need, eating a variety of foods is essential to good health.” Even if an employee does not have time to eat before work, because they are rushing to be on time or their morning consists of dealing with children, bringing a breakfast that they can eat as soon as they get to work would be a healthy habit to get into. Multi- tasking is possible when eating cereal, fruit and nuts at the same time as checking voicemail or emails. Good nutrition needs to continue throughout the day. Fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks, drinking water or tea to stay hydrated, and eating dairy products all add to well-balanced meals. For example, eating healthy dinners with fish two times a week can vastly improve a person’s well-being because fish has omega 3 fatty acids.

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There is a link between getting more omega 3 in the diet and reducing allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases which can all be an extra burden at work. For the most part, people need to be responsible for their own meals, but the management of a workplace that wants to help with this aspect of good mental and physical health for their employees can provide kitchen space as alternative eating at a desk, and fridges for bag lunches, vending machines with healthy choices and enough time off for good snacks and lunches. (Bee, 2008) Mental health issues arising from poor eating habits can be acknowledged and addressed within the workplace.

Exercise in the Workplace
Physical health is most often associated with some level of exercise. Most adults do not get their daily recommended exercise. It is important because it helps manage weight gains and maintains a healthy immune system along with bones and muscles. Work can create severe stress and numerous physical conditions such as anxiety, raised blood pressure, headaches, increased heart rate and, most common, depression. This isn’t just a problem for the individual but society as a whole. Companies need to be able to offer some sort of exercise program for their employees. Management could give employees time during the day for employees to participate in aerobics classes or nature walks or help pay for gym memberships. Maybe there can be fitness program incentives such as prizes for the employees that make it out to the most fitness classes. The amount recommended for adults to stay healthy is one hour of exercising a day. When people are physically fit they feel better about themselves, will accomplish better and more work, and have less physical ailments. This results in less stress and happier employees and not as many mental health issues to be dealt with by managers. (Karlin & Duffy, Aug 2008.)

Getting Enough Sleep
Proper amounts of sleep could be the most important factor to reduce all mental health issues that affect employees. Doctors suggest 7 to 10 hours of solid rest a night, but that is rarely achievable. Employees who do not get enough sleep have a much higher chance of psychiatric issues that can seriously affect recollection, knowledge and reasoning. In the special information supplement to the October 21, 2008 edition of the Globe and Mail, the final article has the headline “Lost sleep means lost dollars”. Sleep deprivation reduces many skills needed for all jobs, including attention and vigilance, decision-making ability, memory, and communication skills. The cost to any company can be high with sloppy work, absenteeism, irritability, decreased productivity and poorer employee health. While this issue needs to be taken care of in the home, with avoidance of caffeine, a good sleep environment and a regular routine, a few important contributions can be made with a healthy workplace culture. For example, continuing to be available for cell-phone calls into the evening, and working on the computer at home can be stimulating and not conducive for sleep and should not be expected by management. Flex-time, with slightly later arrival times in the morning may allow for a relaxed beginning to the work day. Rest, with regular vacations and days off, might also help to improve mental health along with physical health. The importance of sleep habits is essential for everyone.

Managerial Support
Making social connections is a healthy habit in the workplace as well as in other aspects of life. Outside of regular work hours, communal activities such as sports or volunteering are good for physical and mental health, according to a 2004 study in the American Journal of Health Behavior. Group activities can keep up the physical activity level as well as the mental activity. A healthy workplace would benefit tremendously from employees who have opportunities to engage with other people from work. For example, competing alongside other staff in a baseball league, can add to a sense of belonging to a team.(Johnson, 2003) Communication between employees may improve as they feel more engaged. Other social connections within the workplace could be organized by the managers and include parties such as Summer Barbeques or a Christmas Family Time with Santa. As employees get to know each other better they will inevitably care more for each other and be more supportive of each other. Working in such an environment will be good for physical health as well as mental health.

Outside of Work
Good mental health at the workplace will be influenced by good mental health activities when away from the job. People need friendship and structure away from work so that they can enjoy their life out of the office. Whether people go to church or join a club, it doesn’t matter as long as they are with other people in society. Whatever you do, do it with people. Everyone needs support from close friends if there is a serious problem in their life and conversing with peers can sometimes do the trick to improve mental health. Also, people need hobbies to do in between work, eating and sleep. It helps keep their social life apart from their profession and helps them from sitting and watching TV all night. It could even help with weight loss and make for healthier lives because hobbies relax people, release stress, be fun and give a positive sense of accomplishment.

Conclusion on Mental Health in the Workplace

Wellness needs to be an integral part of a workplace environment and planning is the key to improving physical health and mental health. The most important thing an individual can do to help make their own life better is to set up a plan, choose ways to help themselves. If they know they aren’t getting enough sleep then plan to go to bed a few hours early. If they know they are getting behind at work and will soon be swamped with an overload get some help from managers and share the work to relieve stress. If home life is making for inadequate work or work is making life at home bad then plan to correct the problem before it gets out of hand and anxiety or a panic attack happens. If energy is lacking, plan to eat healthier and get regular exercise. A plan for a healthy workplace, initiated by the managers, needs to be in place as well. A good first step for a plan should include initiatives for improved physical health for employees. It will follow then, that mental health issues in the workplace can be addressed by first promoting improved physical well-being.

References

Bee, Peta. (2008, September 21). Cracking Up? Work related stress can ruin your life, not just your job. London Times. Retrieved September 28th, 2008 from thetimesonline.co.uk

Mental Health and Binge Eating Disorder. (2008, October). Retrieved October 22, 2008, from WebMD: http://women.webmd.com/guide/mental-health-binge-eating-disorder
Employment and Mental Illness. (2008, September). Retrieved September 28th, 2008, from Canadian Mental Health Soceity: http://www.cmha.ca/BINS/content_page.asp?cid=3-109
Factsheet: Workplace. (2008). Retrieved Septemeber 28th, 2008, from Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/workplace
Johnson, N. G. (2003). Psychology and Health: Research, Practice, and Policy. American Psychological Association , 670-677.
Karlin, B. E., & Duffy, M. (Aug 2008.). Patterns and Predictors of Mental Health Service use and Mental Illness. Educational Publishing Foundation , pp. 275-294.
Lost Sleep Means Lost Dollars. (2008, October 21). The Globe and Mail , p. 6.
Mental Health Works. (2008, August). Retrieved Septemeber 28th, 2008, from http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/
Millar, D. J. (Oct 1990). Mental Health and the Workplace: An Interchangeable Partnership. American Psychological Association , 1165-1166.
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