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How can you support your team’s mental health - while protecting your own?

By Nick Elston, founder of Forging People

With so many of us struggling with mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, plenty of people will be having conversations with their friends, families, colleagues and managers about the difficulties they face.

But can the desire to help and listen to the people you employ damage you and potentially discourage you from helping more people?

After all, we immediately feel their pain, we shoulder their burden and before you know it, you could have all your employees’ pressures weighing on you, and that’s before you even get home.

The alternative would be not to engage with their struggles, but do we want to become so anxious, scared and overwhelmed by their challenges that we unwittingly keep them at arm’s length? Of course not.

So, this soon very much becomes about self-awareness, self-protection and taking a step back to truly look at what is happening in these interactions.

Based on my work as a speaker, coach and mentor in the mental health space, as well as my own lived experience of mental illness, mental health challenges, burnout and ultimately my breakdown, I want to give you a unique view, one which when implemented by my clients has yielded impressive results.

Not only has it increased engagement, it has also empowered more people to be helped, across many different organisations and industries.

So, let’s take this from the beginning…

Essentially in life, people just want to be truly heard and truly understood - but now, more than ever, we don’t feel that way.

If one of your team comes to you, to share a challenge with you - firstly, that’s a massive ‘well done’ to you. You’ve built a level of trust and the rapport needed to make someone feel confident to engage with you.

But unless you are a medical professional, people aren’t coming to be fixed. They are coming to you to be heard.

So if our responsibility isn’t to ‘fix’ them, what do you do?

Our responsibility, as I see it, is simply to listen - truly listen - put your laptop down, your device away and give them your undivided attention for a human-to-human conversation.

Also, in my experience - both personally and from my work with professionals in client-facing sectors - the problem they come to you with isn’t actually THE problem - it’s a byproduct or symptom of the challenge.

For example, with mental health - especially stress and anxiety - the byproducts could be;

  • Defensive behaviour
  • Aggression
  • High sensitivity or insecurity
  • Lethargy, fatigue or low energy
  • Lack of confidence, courage or conviction
  • Situation avoidance

This is why we need to truly listen, to engage and question, to have those human-to-human conversations, and to really dig deep into the source of the issue.

I am a champion of the use of ‘vulnerability’. You shouldn’t be afraid to show more of yourself, to forge a deeper relationship, conversation and engagement with that person.

Only then, can we showcase our real responsibility and guide them to a solution.

In my experience, when people feel truly heard and understood, most of the time they feel empowered to find their own way forward. However, we can boost that by getting good at knowing what solutions there are to support that person, both internally and externally.

Also, be prepared, because if people open up to you about mental health, as they do with me, then they will trust you enough to also share other areas of their life, such as discrimination and family issues. So get good at knowing how you can help in any given situation.

A term I often use when discussing this issue is “active signposting” - knowing what solutions are available and pointing people towards them. These could be internal resources such as employee assistance programmes, counselling, GP services and therapies, or external help provided by the likes of the NHS, Mind, Time To Change, Rethink and Mental Health UK.

Because this is a passion for me, I have also forged relationships with organisations locally to me who specialise in supporting people with all challenges, which then gives me all the tools that I need to support people in the best way that I can.

Switching your mindset from one of trying to ‘fix’ people to one of empowering them eases your burden and encourages you to have more conversations, rather than keep people at arm’s length.

This one mindset switch is one of the most powerful tools that I use with clients, as it has the biggest cultural impact. At the same time, it works on a self-care level, helping you stay fully charged, unburdened and ignited to help more people through life’s challenges, both personally and professionally.

As I always say, “we have all of the answers, we just don’t ask ourselves the right questions”. We can show kindness and compassion without giving ourselves away, whilst empowering more people more than we ever have done before.

You’ve got this!

For more on managing your mental health, read our earlier article: Mental Health Strategies for Brokers.

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