Wednesday 21 March 2018

How to mind your mental health in the workplace

Follow our seven simple steps to give yourself a boost during working hours

In association with the Health Service Executive

WHETHER you're one of the 52pc of people who know someone with mental health issues, or one of the 22pc who are affected directly by them - mental health can require a little TLC.

If you struggle with your mental health, work can become a difficult place to deal with it - symptoms of depression, for example, can include lack of motivation, lack of energy and disturbed sleep patterns, and these don't exactly make excelling at work easy.

Additionally, poor mental health can have an impact on your working perform-ance - but isn't a reflection of how you good you are as an employee.

If you are going through a tough time, colleagues might notice your poor concentration, lack of motivation, inability to meet deadlines or withdrawal from a team. But a patient, supportive, respectful and understanding work environment will make all the difference.

In the meantime, there are dozens of professionals available at the end of the phone or email if you're not feeling good right now, and also a few simple changes you can start making to your own routine to give your mental health a boost.

So, from breaking out of bed in the morning to your night-time rituals, here are seven simple changes you can make to your work day that can boost your mental health.

1. Craft the ultimate 'happy' playlist to wake up to

Struggle to get up in the morning? Well, here's something to entice you out of bed and into the right frame of mind for the day ahead: gather all your favourite songs and blast them while getting ready for work.

According to Music Therapy Ireland, music can "notably reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation and diminish negative symptoms". The power of music for positive mental health has been recognised since Plato's time - the philosopher said, "[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." So, get that Van Morrison on, stat.

2. Get the right breakfast into you

Whether you consider porridge to be tasteless stodge or absolutely delicious, research shows that eating fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds can help protect your mental health. And porridge is a great way to combine these.

That's not the only advantage, however - according to the HSE, people who eat breakfast are actually less likely to experience mental health difficulties. By eating things like porridge, wholegrain breads or cereal, dairy and fruit, we boost essential brain nutrients like glucose, B vitamins and protein.

3. Spend some time in greenery during your break

Although it can be the last thing you feel like doing, fitting in a walk at lunchtime can be so beneficial - not only in terms of extra exercise, but being surrounded by grass, leaves and trees can actually improve your mental health.

According to the World Health Organization, this works in two ways. Firstly, it shifts us into a more positive emotional state (i.e. relaxes us). Secondly, stimuli in natural settings improve our concentration by forcing us into a state of 'fascination or involuntary attention'. This saves energy for our limited 'directed attention', used to complete tasks.

4. Try some new activities with work

Finding the time and the energy after work to break a sweat in the gym can be difficult for anyone, especially those who may be suffering the effects of mental health difficulties. However, the motivation of doing it with others can really help you stick to fitness plans.

Whether it's doing a run as a group, joining a simple five-a-side or even starting a work book club, a study by Sheffield Hallam University found that "low-key groupwork" built confidence, supported the natural development of social relationships, facilitated the exploration of cultural diversity, increased self-worth and reduced social isolation.

5. Try not to use your phone after 9pm

Mental health is something that can both suffer due to a lack of sleep and in itself lead to disturbed sleep patterns. And our not-so-healthy habits of using our phones in bed, often right before we go to sleep, can take its toll.

According to, gadgets cut into our sleep in three ways - they suppress melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle; they keep your brain alert, making it difficult to drift off; and their lights and sound can keep you awake. Place that phone face-down and on 'silent' the moment you get into bed for the best possible sleep.

6. Have a chat with your manager

Stigma-reduction campaign See Change has identified the workplace as a very important place to change people's attitudes in relation to mental health. In fact, the direct annual cost of poor mental health in Ireland has been estimated to be €3bn, many of these from work-related costs like absenteeism, loss of labour supply and unemployment.

Luckily, mental health issues are covered by equality law, meaning that you are entitled to a number of rights from your employer. Along with the rights not to be discriminated against for these issues, you're entitled to 'reasonable accommodation' for your needs, which can include time to attend appointments and the ability to work from home. If that makes you uncomfortable, chat to a colleague - they may be a wonderful help.

7. Reach out to a professional

As difficult as it can be to take the step of initially contacting a professional, there are options available to you, no matter what your budget or level of free time. Pieta House offers free counselling to those who cannot afford it, while some counsellors offer appointments outside of work hours for those who cannot regularly take time off work.

For whatever reason, if you can't make it to an appointment in person, Samaritans and Childline operate a 24/7 support service by phone (and Childline by text), while Aware operates a 10am-to-10pm phone line (see below).

Useful links and websites

Little Things is a positive mental health campaign created by the HSE Mental Health Division and supported by over 32 partner organisations to promote positive mental health and to reduce the loss of life through suicide.

See a comprehensive list of phone and online supports, as well as more information, on

Depression and anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or social status. It is not a sign of weakness, and any of us can experience it at any stage in our lives. Little Things can make a big difference to our mental health.

On, there is information on how we can protect our own mental health, and support the people we care about. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety, start a conversation. Let's try to work towards #HealthyIreland.

■ Remember, problems feel smaller when you share them. If you need to talk, contact for free:

■ Samaritans Call 116 123 or email (available 24/7)

■ Aware Call 1800 804 848 (depression, anxiety)

■ Pieta House Call 1800 247 247 or email (available 24/7)

■ TeenLine Ireland Call 1800 833 634 (for ages 13-19)

■ Childline Call 1800 666 666, or text 'Talk' to 50101 (for under-18s)

■ HSE Counselling in Primary Care (for medical card holders aged 18 or over)

■ For students of ITT, ITB, MU, NCAD, NCI, RCSI and TCD, NiteLine (call 1800 793 793; see is a term-time student listening service operated by students

Irish Independent

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