Mental health : changing the conversation with Brid O’Meara

“One of the greatest gifts we can give to another person is to listen, and not to respond, just to hear”

Brid and I have an inspiring and rich conversation on mental health in the workplace. We discuss how this translates for individuals and for organisations: how can they stay connected on a human level, what reflexes and habits are being developed and how these conversations are being tackled by leaders. COVID brought this subject centre stage and forced us to look at our own responsibility in being well but also what culture is needed to sustain an open exchange in the workplace. 

Brid shares her wealth of experience and some tangible, simple techniques that we can use to develop our own reflexes and help the organisation develop a culture to normalise conversations around mental health and well being. 

The main insights you’ll get from this episode are :

  • We must build a culture of mental wellbeing and change the conversation in organisations to normalise discussion surrounding mental health by asking people what they need and offering help – even simple solutions such as stepping out of office for 10 minutes to regain perspective or slowing the pace down to allow people to just ‘be’. 
  • Wellbeing is about ‘being’ well, not ‘doing’ well but it is much easier to measure what we do than it is to measure how well we are. There should be a private and psychologically safe space in which to have conversations, display emotions and ask difficult questions. 
  • COVID brought the issue of ‘being well’ at work to the fore as a result of anxiety, fear, logistical problems, existential worries, stress, constant change and isolation. It has changed working models and working hours, which have become less rigid and more flexible due to complicated home lives, and this in turn has increased productivity overall. 
  • Staying well means staying connected (pre- and post-COVID). The current hybrid work model looks at how to avoid isolation, e.g. by rotating office time amongst all employees to have different people connecting on different days. 
  • The ‘new situation’ requires new ideas as well skills and techniques: we must learn, use and one these skills until they become second nature (like learning to drive) and part of our daily practice. Like our dental health, our mental health too requires a small amount of attention every day.
  • The relentless working day calls for simple and effective techniques such as conscious breathing to calm the sympathetic nervous system, reduce the heart rate, relax muscles, etc. Other simple practices that can be helpful include mindfulness, talking therapies, speaking openly and honestly, expressing feelings and listening to understand not to respond. 
  • Practical advice includes taking exercise (to release endorphins), eating healthily, sleeping well, meditation (to rest the mind), offsetting stress with pleasure (finding small things that bring you joy every day), finding closeness (we are relational beings), achievement.
  • We must develop our own individual reflexes; even in large organisations, everything is a choice and comes down to individual responsibility. How do we react to negative emotions at work? Managers can initiate and carefully frame a conversation with someone they might be concerned about to enable the person to feel safe enough to speak up and open up.

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Suzie Lewis

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