It’s important that we address the subject of mental health in the workplace. A supportive workplace can boost mental health, and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. Amanda Hughes works on the MADE Cymru project at University of Wales Trinity Saint David. She’s the first port of call for the MADE Cymru students and has 30 years’ experience of working in higher education.
Amanda is a passionate advocate for wellbeing in the workplace. We caught up with Amanda at UWTSD’s SA1 Waterfront campus in Swansea and asked her some questions about mental health.
Amanda, tell us about how you became interested in workplace wellbeing
Although awareness of mental health is increasing, we still live in a world where people are worried about admitting they might need some help. I want to help create a workplace culture where we can be ourselves and talk about our worries and concerns.
I have personally suffered with mental health issues in the past after two devastating bereavements that were very close together. It set off a spiral of poor mental health that I felt very alone with. To be honest, I threw myself into work and didn’t really deal with it. In fact, I hid it and suffered in secret. About two years ago, I hit a low point and decided to address it once and for all. I had some private counselling that wasn’t very effective so reached out to work and was given access to a fabulous counsellor who shared some coping mechanisms with me. You can’t erase sad events in your past, but you can find better ways of carrying and processing them. I want to help others find their path to a more peaceful state of wellbeing.
In addition to your own experiences, have you had any training?
I recently went on a First Aid for Mental Health course, and it explained all the different types of mental health issues such as eating disorders, stress, psychosis etc and how to recognise the signs and symptoms. The course helped to educate me about various ways of approaching people and how to offer them support. They shared tactics with us about how we can encourage people to open up and talk.
Some issues are resolvable by making small changes, but it is also critical to know when to signpost people to appropriate professional support services. For example, at UWTSD, our student services department can support students with counselling services. There is also free counselling offered to staff. I see my role as someone who can help recognise the signs of colleagues and students struggling.
How does this help the students you talk to?
I am the first point of contact for the students on the MADE Cymru course. And I am usually the one who helps them with challenges and issues they face throughout their studies. I guess I am that person who guides them through, and I try to be as supportive as I can. Many of the students have busy jobs, families, and other pressures such as caring responsibilities for elderly parents. It is important that studying does not add more stress to their lives.
I use my knowledge and experience to help them manage their workload and liaise with the lecturers to resolve any problems. For example, one student was struggling with balancing work, family and study, so we broke the course into bite-sized modules and they found that was much easier to cope with.
Do you have any tips you can share with us to help boost our wellbeing?
Yes. These are some ideas that have worked for me – I hope they help someone else:
- Disconnect from technology every once in a while. Switch off emails and social media on your mobile phone. Take a break from it all. There are so many ways for people to contact us these days, it can be overwhelming.
- Exercise. This has been a saviour for me. I have a personal trainer and take part in regular gym sessions. This has given me such a boost and I feel amazing after every session. It doesn’t have to be a full on bootcamp – yoga or gentle walking are equally as beneficial.
- Diet. That old cliché of ‘we are what we eat’ is true. I try hard to eat a balanced diet that boosts my mind and body. Try and cut right down on your caffeine intake as too much can bring on symptoms of stress.
- Cut down on alcohol. We all like the odd drink but it is easy to overindulge – plus you never feel great the next day. Regulate what you drink and recognise if you are using alcohol as a crutch.
- Eliminate negativity from your life. Try and keep away from people and situations that drain you or make you feel bad about yourself. I know this can be difficult, but if you can’t remove yourself, try and explain to the person how they make you feel.
- Talk. You’ll be surprised how many other people open up when you share your problems and worries. Sometimes just talking to someone you trust can take the edge of how you are feeling. Most importantly, when things feel overwhelming, please seek professional help.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us Amanda. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that you are never alone, and I have included some links to support groups that can help you.
UWTSD Student Services
UWTSD students – Togetherall (check with student services for access)
Mind – the mental health charity
Cruse Bereavement Support
Mental health – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Alcohol support – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Beat – Eating Disorders
Sands | Stillbirth and neonatal death charity
Meddwl: Welsh language mental health help