Mental Health in the Workplace Trends

Slightly off my normal International/ Expat focus – I’ve spent the past year rediscovering Employment Law by studying at University of East Anglia (UEA).  This is with the intention of taking my coaching and HR experience into the UK workplace now I’ve repatriated.

As part of my studies I have to complete a dissertation.  My choice has been to look at Mental Health in the Workplace from a legalistic viewpoint.  I also wanted to understand what was happening in the workplace presently particularly as there is an increase in personal and business demands due to the economy.  People are worried about their livelihood and have worries at home, and at same time employers are cutting costs and worried about remaining economically viable.  This can mean there is an increasing need for employers to be aware of managing and supporting their employee’s mental health or illness at the very time when employee benefits may be cut and or focus is on profitability.

I produced a simple questionnaire for line managers and HR to gather what they understood mental health, mental illness and well-being to be, did they understand the shift from illness to disability, how did they view their working culture and support for Mental Health and indeed how did they support themselves.   From my reading I could see that there was an huge weight of responsibility from business being put on their knowledge, understanding and indeed empathy for managing an employee with a Mental Health concern.  I wanted to see if this was a demand too far in the current economic climate.

From the survey I’ve drawn some simplistic trends and themes together using respondents phrasing, which may be of interest to others working in Mental Health, Well-being, HR.

Themes and trends appearing in Line Manager and HR responses to Mental Health at Work survey May- June 2012

Training on Mental Health issues and managing Mental Health in workplace


Self-research and reading


Mentoring others

Mindful Employer

Equality training

Mandatory training

Basic training

Training on depression and alcohol addiction

Stress awareness and reducing stress

Signs to watch for in employees

Training for line managers to support staff

Employee wellbeing

NHS own campaign

Want – How to work with someone with a Mental Health illness

Want – More training on the legal implications

Line managers, Management and Organisation’s culture

Mental Health Viewed as a weakness

Clinicians with mental illness may present a safety risk to patients hard to manage/mitigate

Internal Mental Health strategy and campaign in large national employer

Need to learn techniques to prevent where possible mental health employees

Some business attempt to be supportive and succeed

Others fail employee, team and manager and their bottom line

Need supportive environment and workplace strategy

Decision makers believe Mental Health is important but not necessarily translated fully into everyday business environment and action

Budget cut backs remove low level early intervention and supportive measures

Accountability for pressure on employees

Line Managers show stereotypical views rather than view merits of individual case

Business not a place for illness – busy and demanding about making money

Time and resource consuming for little or nil return on investment

Line manager are seen as key to managing situations yet often not experience, knowledgeable, interested in

When senior managers aware or understand issue and impact of MH in workplace organisation culture can benefit

Flexible not staid / fixed attitudes and working practices can help

External agencies –  HR, Occupational Health and GPs

Need competent, professional intervention

Lack of helpful guidance from GPs

Lack of support from Medical Professionals

Some OH will give a professional opinion to employers but generally don’t feel they offer resolution

No one fit policy or procedure due to impact of illness differing case by case

HR support line managers but frustrated when they not follow advice

HR and line managers can successively support but depends on each situation and illness type

On subject of Mental Health

Stigma still attached

Can be “invisible” illness and disability

Breadth of issue

Complexity of managing in work

Variety conditions

Individual’s response

Organisation’s response/culture

Line Managers experience, knowledge and attitude

Number of agencies involved – work, medical, individual, home, specialist support, HR etc

Descriptive language used affects response to issue – use of problem can limit

Wellbeing is viewed as positive and holistic

Mental Health illness is viewed as negative and diagnosed

Difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness is person’s ability to manage their mental health

In an individual’s control

Fear of individual to disclose past or current / fear repercussions at work

Working is good for mental health improvement but work is not necessarily good for mental health

Dealing with Mental Health in the workplace in current economy

Important as legal requirements but other key focus areas at present

Main focus is business survival and budget cuts

Absence and performance management key

Not easy to deliver a solution to business or employees

Not enough knowledge and experience of what constitutes Mental Health Illness or a likely Mental Health Disability

Frustrations of managing MH at work

Legislation and complexity


Team demoralised through long term absent colleague

Not disclosing till too late

Employee expectations

Employee’s not following medical guidance

Unpredictable behaviour

Poor relationships with colleagues cause difficulties

Rewards of managing MH at work


Return to work

Team work and collaboration to support

Finding right support and help at right time

Managing own mental health

Self management

Conscious of own limits

Work/life balance

Perspective – its just a job


Interest (groups) outside of work


Positive self-talk


Switch off and move on



Fresh air





Healthy body, healthy mind


Talking therapy

External supervision


Someone safe to talk to (work or outside)

Work environment


Support of line manager

Work/life balance

Ability to work from home

Excellent peer support

Leaving work on time

Not working shifts

Calm approach to work

Time away from desk in day

Management support from highest levels

Constructive comments

Fun at work

Home life


Time out

Family Love

Support in life



Where have I been?

Hopefully I was missed a little. I’ve not blogged in almost a year. What a year.

Nearly 10 months ago whilst in the Netherlands I said “Enough”. Particularly enough of the on/off carousel of my partner’s organisation’s expat lottery – the annual event that begins each Springtime of who are we moving, when and where. Which brings 3-5 months of questioning, not getting straight answers, planning “just in case” solutions and options whilst trying to remain “present” in the expat life one is currently living in and not giving out too many signals that one might be heading out the exit very soon (just in case one doesn’t).

Discussions had happened about moving back to UK – good. Then they were off again. Discussions had happened about going to New York USA – they proceeded, then they were off again. Nothing was going to happen again for the 4th year in a row. “ENOUGH”! I yelled. I’d been wanting to take back control of my life from the “rat in someone’s experiment” lifestyle being an expat/ trailing spouse can become for a good number of years. Finally HE was having the same thought at the same time as me.

We’d bought a house in the UK as our fall back to come home to if needed. It wasn’t rented out. Now was the time. In six weeks I sorted out leaving our life in the Netherlands partially and exchanging it for a life in the UK.

My 9 year old son and I formally “exited” the Netherlands whilst HE remains a legal tax paying citizen there. My son and I live an English rural lifestyle daily. HE flies in for the experience at the weekends. 7 months on – its going well, better than we thought but its not the permanent solution – we all miss being a family on a more regular basis. And the conversations (okay rows) are repeats of a script I remembered hearing my parents using. My original reason for leaving my lovely life in London back in 2002 was I didn’t want a part time, commuter family nor relationship a la parents. I tried the other way for 10 years and yes there were some benefits and some difficulties. Now I’m doing it the way I feared back in 2002 and its okay – perhaps its so as we know its temporary (fingers crossed), we’ve been in a relationship and family unit for a lot longer and we obviously missed being in the security of “HOME”. So for all its difficulties in the past 12 months, at present we’re on the whole HAPPY.

Can’t promise I’ll blog more, can’t promise I’ll stay happy but hey that’s normal, isn’t it?

Cities I'd Consider Moving to

Where will a globe trotter end up?


Oh this is a question for an expat!

London – to go home I guess

San Diego and San Francisco – love the lifestyle and locations

Sydney – as you have to live there once in life

Hong Kong – similar to Sydney

New York – has to be done

Buenos Aires – to learn how to Tango properly!

Paris – to see more of my brother

York – as I've always loved that city and its history

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Coffee vs. Tea

Expat and a confirmed Tea drinker

Cup of tea

Being a British Expat it has to be TEA! Strong, hot, with milk and occasionally with a spoon of sugar. Builders tea.

Funny when living in London what did I drink – cappuccino, latte, etc from large take away cups from trendy coffee bars.

Now having a proper (as I deem it) cup of tea has more significance. Here in the Netherlands, tea is made by a quick dip of a tea bag of no strength into luke warm water – whether herbal or black tea. And served without milk. I can drink tasty herbal tea or fresh mint leaves diffused by hot water but I gotta to have strong tasty black tea to make what I consider a proper cup of tea. Again tea bags or tea leaves I like I have to bring back from UK or Ireland of have imported from tea specialists. Hence why a good cup of tea has more significance whilst living overseas.

A nice cup of tea always makes things better 🙂

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Repatriation – a friend feels the blues

Recently a lovely friend, who repatriated back to the US after 3 years in the Netherlands last year, shared how her repatriation was going. I found her honesty and sharing so moving and asked her if I could share parts of her blog as I felt there was great value for other expatriates who may be facing or going through repatriation or “re-entry blues”. She heartily agreed and I just want to say that’s she is fine and finding her way up and out of the “blues”.

To know that feeling blue and lost in the first year of being “home” is normal and others go through it can help. Remember how you first felt when you moved overseas – yes its similar feelings on going home – they take time to process and understand. Keeping active and engaged are important elements of coping.

Today marks the six month anniversary of my arrival back… It was at our six month mark after our move to the Netherlands that we came back to Seattle on vacation, and it was at that time that things started turning around for us. The misery that had been a big part of transitioning let up and we started doing more and being happier. I’ve been looking to this day to be the turn-around point for myself. I’m hopeful, most of the time, that this point will mark the beginning of the upswing back to my normal happy.

Because, frankly, it’s been pretty tough. I’ve been lonely and disconnected, unhappy and overwhelmed, burying myself in my vices and refusing all too often to do the writing and running that keep me on an even keel. I have read well over a hundred books, played way too much spider (and deleted it from my phone dozens of times), and spent hours and hours getting our music library in shape despite the urgency of other tasks.

…I hurried to get our Christmas picture taken in early December, then got the letters folded in with the pictures before Christmas, and they have been sitting on a shelf waiting for labels and stamps ever since. I have allowed my e-mail box to stuff itself until I am immobile (again), and I have nearly ceased activity on Facebook not because I haven’t craved the connection, but because I felt stupid, incapable, guilty, and unworthy. I am frustrated by my failings and my feelings. I have been impatient with myself and unkind in ways I wouldn’t tolerate in anyone else. I am ready for all of that to change…

I am making progress. I am running more. I am starting to make the personal and social connections that will keep me from feeling invisible at the schoolyard and at home. The weather is helping and I am able to work in the garden, something that gives me calm and satisfaction. Things feels more possible…

As one road ends another begins?

… I can bulldoze through obstacles that might otherwise stop me if I spent time beating myself up because I wasn’t doing everything at once.

So thank you my friend for sharing the truth, the challenges, the thoughts and the fact that it happens but does get better.

For my friend and other expats: I know you have the strength to get through this. As an expat you challenged yourself and learnt a great deal about who you are. Use that knowledge to ease yourself during this transition and remember BE KIND TO YOURSELF

For further reading and information on repatriation blues

Saint Patrick's Day 2011

Acknowledging culture and history – a view of St Patricks from the expat world.

Guiness en 568 ml.

Being half Irish and the mum of an Irish born son I can't say we don't celebrate but we don't do it to Dublin standards!!! T went to school today in his Ireland rugby shirt and his teacher was disappointed that I hadn't dressed up….well if my mum doesn't send me shamrock what am I too do!

Funnily I was considering that I "celebrate" or mark this date more now I live abroad and have a child then when I was a child or young single woman. Why is that – now I want my son to know about his heritage and being abroad makes heritage more important than when you live there with it? Now I get why my mother and grandmother send shamrock and St Patrick's day cards – to keep the cultural heritage that family members share no matter where they are in the world.

So enjoy your St Patrick's Day the way you celebrate and honour it.


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Supporting Yourself and Your Expat Child Part 3: Stress and Needs in Children

Stress in kids

What’s making your child stressed?
Write down possibilities. Consider how you can help them?
It may be possible to identify personal stressors from this exercise too and perhaps you can work on them together with the child.
Try to avoid showing your own anxieties as children pick up on them.
Encourage your child to make their own decisions on how to act within limits you’ve set with them.
Talk through pros’ and cons and consequences of the choices.
Try not to pressurise to get it right first time.
Trial and error is important in developing coping skills.

There are 4 signs of stress:

Fight behaviour
 Resisting change,
 Preferring what they know is safe and familiar
 Unlikely to take any sort risks

Flight behaviour
 May avoid something by doing something else, even something they dislike doing.
 May pretend to be ill or tired
 Avoids eye contact with adults
 May do safe things again and again
 May stay on the edge of groups

Freeze behaviour
 Unable to speak or do anything when they are put on the spot in some way
 Goes blank when asked a question to which they know the answer

Flock behaviour
 Wants to be friends
 Wants to be like friends, not to stand out in the crowd
 Can lead to dumbing down, as “its cooler”

Having fun together - supporting each other

Development Needs of Children
Remember there are development needs, which children need to have met. Mia Keller Pringle in the Needs of Children (1980) suggests the following:
 The need for love and security
 The need for new experiences
 The need for praise and encouragement
 The need for responsibility

If you can meet these during your time as an expatriate and look at the opportunities that are around you to do so, then you will be raising an incredible human being with an ability to be communicative, empathetic and adaptive due to the experience of living abroad.

This blog is part of an article that was one of the first featured on IamExpat Netherlands when it launched in January 2010. If you’d like to read the whole article