Though it isn’t something many of us are entirely comfortable talking about, mental health is an incredibly important aspect of our day to day lives and around 25% of us will face some sort of mental health issue each year.
Of course, that’s just those of us who will admit to it; it’s likely that a larger percentage of us suffer in silence out of shame, fear, due to the misguided notions of strength and the importance of appearances that society has given us.
In fact, mental health issues are so common that they have become the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK; with an estimated 70 million workdays lost as a result.
The reality is that mental health issues include many common issues that we all face from time to time such as workplace-stress, post-natal depression, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Mental health awareness and wellbeing in the workplace has almost become a trendy thing these days, but it’s important that it is taken seriously and isn’t just a token gesture by upper management.
That’s not to say that mental health is only an issue in multinationals and giants of industry, in fact, mental health may be an even bigger issue for freelancers, contractors and the self-employed. The stress of running your own business can be tremendous, many freelance workers who work at home will spend most of their day entirely isolated from other people and some struggle to maintain any kind of work-life balance; all of these issues can be incredibly taxing on our mental health and can lead to much bigger problems down the line if not dealt with properly.
Being able to evaluate your mental health and seek help if and when you need to is vital, but this is something many people wrestle with, and often we lose that struggle. We ignore minor issues, put things off, dismiss mental wellbeing as nonsense and convince ourselves everything is fine. Until we reach a breaking point and then suddenly that minor issue you faced 6 months ago is a serious and crippling mental health issue.
That’s when you might find a need for protection.
Many people don’t realise that insurance providers will pay out for mental health issues on income protection policies and if a mental health issue keeps you off work or even costs you your job then you could make a claim on mental health grounds.
Of course, income protection is for when things get out of hand and whether you work in a big company or are a self-employed freelancer, there is a lot you can do to improve your mental wellbeing before things get bad enough to need to use that extra protection.
The truth is you can still get and benefit from all sorts of insurance, even with a history of mental illness. This includes life insurance & critical illness cover; just because you have a history of depression or anxiety, does not make you exempt from any future from an accident or sickness that will keep you out of work for any prolonged amount of time. Income protection or critical illness cover will help with the financial burdens that come with that.
Every provider is different and each case is assessed individually of course, but many of them have changed how they view mental health and even if none of the big insurance companies will take you there are specialist insurance providers who could take you.
Knowing the Signs of Poor Mental Health is a good starting point for this as it will help you recognise if your (or an employee’s) mental wellbeing might be suffering and allow you to begin dealing with it as soon as possible. You could also take 5-10 minutes a week to do a Weekly Wellbeing Checkup, which will help you be more mindful of your mental wellbeing and help you realise what you could be doing to improve your wellbeing.
If you work for a company, it’s important to be honest with your employer as well as yourself and you should speak to your manager, human resources or other superior that you trust about your issues, ask them if any support is available, organise a Wellness Action Plan and discuss leave if needed.
If you are a manager, you can make sure you understand your company’s policies on mental health, assess how well your company supports mental wellbeing, set up mental wellbeing in work support groups, run mental health wellbeing & first aid training sessions and ensure staff have access to mental wellbeing policies and other information. It is also important to ensure you remain aware of all employees wellbeing and not just the ones who approach you, as only half of employees suffering mental health issues will speak to their managers about it.
As a freelancer, your support will probably come from outside your workplace, from friends, family, your GP or even a mental health expert such as a therapist, but there is a lot you can do to help manage your mental wellbeing while working too.
If you are isolated from other people during your work hours and feel lonely then you can read about healthy ways to cope with that, join a group such as Freelance Heroes or look into using a co-working space so you can mix with other freelance professionals.
If you struggle to manage stress and anxiety, you could try fully separating work and home, having a separate area/room for work if you work from home, leaving your workspace for lunch, limiting your work hours, make sure you don’t ignore your interests and relationships outside of work, take time to sleep properly and make sure you pay attention to your physical health too.
While it might seem that taking time off or allowing employees to take time off for mental wellbeing reasons or taking time out of your day to manage your mental health will cost too much time or money, you may be surprised to find that you will actually lose less time and are more productive in work long-term than if you ignore mental wellbeing.
Read more about:
Insurance & Mental Health – mind.org
How to Improve Mental Wellbeing – mind.org
How to Manage Stress – mind.org
Mental Health at Work – mind.org
Getting Professional Help –mind.org