Being mindful of mental health in the workplace

Last week Brighton Digital Women held a mental health focused meetup to kick-start our focus on wellbeing for the digital marketing community in 2017.

More than forty members of our growing community packed out an upstairs room of Barclay’s Eagle Labs, one of our biggest turnouts yet. Everyone chatted and helped themselves to herbal tea and fruit whilst we found some extra seats, before the talks began.

Supporting the mental health of others

Our first speaker was Ciaran O’Conner, a psychotherapist turned games developer based in Brighton who offers training through Modern Mind. The focus of Ciaran’s talk was the importance of looking outside of our own personal struggles to consider the mental health of those around us.

Ciaran O'Conner speaking at Brighton Digital Women

The first half of the talk explored some principles of existentialism.

Ciaran put forward the idea that the pressure from our inward focus on individual achievement as a means of self-validation could be at the root of many of our problems with mental ill-health. Looking outwards and treating the problems and struggles of those around us, especially in the workplace, can help us to support and improve our mental health collectively.

Ciaran made some complex subjects super accessible and had us laughing every step of the way (we think a side gig in stand-up comedy is a distinct possibility for you Ciaran, if you’re reading 😉 ).

Audience loving Ciaran's jokes at Brighton Digital Women

We’re going to ask Ciaran to write a separate blog on the ideas he raised in his talk, as they really resonated and are something we would like to explore further as a community.

Meditation in the workplace

Our second speaker was Rifa Thorpe-Tracey, founder of wellbeing consultancy Refigure and organiser of SheSays Brighton, who came to talk to us about meditation in the workplace.

Rifa Thorpe-Tracey speaking to the audience at Brighton Digital Women

Rifa’s talk focused on how we could use principles of mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress in our day to day working lives. Rifa explored how we can be more purposeful in meetings to improve communication and encouraged us to try using the power of deep breathing to help remain centred and calm.

For the second part of her talk, Rifa led a 10-minute guided meditation which helped those who hadn’t tried it before experience the difference it made to their energy and focus. As someone who meditates and practices yoga, I was so excited for those who hadn’t had a go before to feel the benefits.

The way Rifa talked people through the meditation was ever so calming and her words painted relaxing and warm visual images, keeping everyone very focused. Afterwards the energy in the room felt positive and people looked visibly more relaxed, their shoulders dropped and faces softened.

What employers can do to help

After our two speakers we had a group discussion about reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace and what employers and employees can do to support this. I shared my own experiences with mental health (something that I’ll write about in more detail for the blog soon) and advocated openness as a positive way forward.

Group discussion at Brighton Digital Women

Disclosing mental health problems to your employer

Whether or not to disclose a mental health problem to your employer can be a really difficult decision (and is also something I’ll be writing a full blog on soon). For me, choosing to disclose has been really positive, as it has meant that my manager and our HR department are able to support me when I need it.

Having disclosed my mental health problems, my employer is legally bound to make reasonable adjustments for me to support my mental health in the workplace.

Disclosing my diagnosis has meant that if there are times when I am really not able to come into work I don’t have to pretend to have the flu for fear of being misunderstood. Having been open from the outset, I haven’t had to explain myself when I’m not doing so well. All I’ve had to say is “I need a mental-health day today”, and that’s been accepted without question.

Flexible working and “duvet days”

We also discussed employers giving people the flexibility to work from home or have “duvet days” to encourage positive mental health. Someone shared that having the option of “duvet days” really improved their state of mind, to the extent that they never actually needed to use that option.

Unreasonable expectations outside of work hours

Working reasonable hours and being assertive about unreasonable expectations on our time was also discussed. One manager shared the fact she tells her staff not to email outside of work hours, setting the tone for a health work/life balance – something we’d all like to see more of.

Share your experiences

If you have any other suggestions of what employers can do to support mental health in the workplace or any problems you’d like to pick our brains on – please leave a comment below or Tweet us @BTNDigitalWomen.

Our February meetup is going to focus on the importance of female friendships and networks to support professional progression and personal wellbeing. More details to follow soon.

Co-founder of Brighton Digital Women and Inbound Marketing Manager for Fresh Egg. I help brands reach, engage and convert their audience through creative campaigns.


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