Of course, there’s not really any science behind this – it was a random date picked to encourage people to buy foreign holidays, and its sort of stuck.
BUT, it has already been a looooong Winter, and there’s still months of it left - with all of the uncertainty and worry of the Omicron Covid wave, and none of the twinkly Christmas lights.
So, whether or not it IS the most depressing day of the year, it’s probably a good moment to think about mental health, and how we plan to look after it in 2022.
The role of workplaces
Mental health has a huge impact on workplaces. Stress, depression, and anxiety accounted for 17.9 million lost working days in 2019-2020, according to government figures. The stress of Covid has boosted the profile of mental health in workplaces, and we’re seeing new awareness that’s helping to dispel some of the stigma around mental health problems.
But there’s still a long way to go. A recent survey from HR experts MHR found that 47% of workers believe that disclosing mental health issues to their employer would negatively impact their career.
In theory, that’s against the law. The Equality Act 2010 says employers must make reasonable adjustments for staff with physical and mental illnesses that substantially and adversely impact day to day activities in the long term.
But that’s little comfort if you’re struggling and are scared to bring it up with your manager.
The rise of employee support lines
That’s probably why a first point of call for many employees is an employee support line - also known as Employee Assistance Programme – an increasingly popular service being offered by more and more workplaces as mental health and wellbeing rise up the agenda.
At Equipsme, it’s an option a third of our members now choose to include as part of workforce health plans. Our stress support line is provided by our brilliant partners Health Assured, who answer hundreds of calls every week from people needing to discuss workplace issues, personal problems, anxiety, depression - and even financial and legal worries.
But what is it like to actually pick up the phone and make that first call?
Sometimes that first step is the very hardest to take - which is why we decided to speak to one of Health Assured’s qualified counsellors and ask them to take some of the mystery and the fear out of picking up that phone.
How hard is it for people to make their first call to you?
It’s a really scary thing to do, and a really brave thing to do. It can be difficult to seek support for several reasons. Perhaps verbalising what is currently going on brings an added layer of reality, perhaps people are used to managing things on their own and feel that reaching out is a sign of weakness. For some the helpline itself can feel intimidating – calling and sharing your issues with a stranger can make you feel very vulnerable.
Why should people do it anyway?
Because it really, really can help. Our staff are all trained to offer the highest calibre of support. Our helpline counsellors are excellent at putting people at ease and allowing them the time and space to offload whilst offering experienced support and advice.
It’s much better to speak out and share what is going on for you, rather than leaving it bottled up. And trust me, we’ve heard it ALL before. There’s nothing you can say to shock us, there’s nothing too insignificant to talk about, and we are definitely not here to judge anyone.
What would you say to reassure people worried about making that call?
Give it a chance. It can be so powerful to share your story with a supportive and trained stranger. And really freeing.
What kind of things do people talk to you about?
People call with anything, and we provide emotional support as well as financial support and legal information. Some of our callers may call about family, relationship, or personal issues, whilst others may be struggling with anxiety or depression. Our helpline team are able to offer a wide range of support and appropriately signpost our callers to more specialised services if necessary.
Why is January a particularly hard month for people?
January seems to be the time when all of the festivities have come to an end, the nights are still dark, and the weather is pretty cold. For some people that can cause low mood and perhaps exacerbate any anxiety or depression they may have already been feeling. For others the festive period itself can be quite triggering- and January is when it all hits home. On top of this January can bring financial hardship, following the aftermath of Christmas and the 5 week-long month.
Who is picking up the phone?
Our phones are all answered in house by a qualified counsellor or a qualified legal professional. All of our staff under-go robust risk training and triage every call they answer.
What kind of support can you offer people?
First and foremost, our counsellors are there to listen to our callers and help support them to action meaningful change within their everyday life. We’re open 24/7 for those conversations. We help our callers to organise and prioritise their thoughts and feelings, provide coping mechanisms to manage anxiety and depression, signpost to specialised services and resources, support with managing work-related stress - and how to approach management about the way they are feeling.
We can also offer management coaching support and structured sessions with counsellors from our affiliate network if they are needed. Our counsellors can also provide psychoeducation around various mental health conditions – and we’ll work with you to understand how best you can be supported to move forwards.
How CAN people approach their line managers to have that first conversation?
That’s something we help a lot of people with. Ask for a private and confidential meeting with your manager to discuss what is currently going on for you. It’s important to let them know you are struggling and give your place of work an opportunity to support you during a difficult time.
Sometimes the hardest part is taking that first step - maybe try requesting your meeting via email or a message if you are struggling to ask in person. Your manager will be able to advise you on next steps and options, and you don’t necessarily need a Dr’s note in place to have these conversations.
What’s the best bit about your job?
It’s great to hear clients say we’ve made their day better, or that we have made them feel more positive about a situation they previously felt was hopeless. We’ve even had people let us know one of our counsellors has literally saved their life. These moments really remind us why the work we do is so important - and how effective can be.
What would you say to someone who has this as part of their workplace benefits, but is still hesitating to call?
Please give it a try! This is a supportive and accessible resource available through your workplace. Even if you just want to share something confidentially – the power of speaking out should never be underestimated.
Find out more about how to use the Stress Support line here.