There are many factors relating to suicide and the feeling of hopelessness and that there is no other solution to ending the pain of life. Financial hardship and job instability as well as health concerns are all proven causes of anxiety and depression, so a combination of all of these during a pandemic are going to combine to create a very difficult situation indeed for some people.
All of these factors are likely to cause social isolation - a major contributor to poor mental health. All contribute to a pessimistic outlook. All may affect your close personal relationships. All will be difficult to deal with for those with an existing mental health disorder. All have a stigma associated with them, meaning a victim of any or all is less likely to seek support. Add to the mix that anyone who preceives themself to be the breadwinner of the family unit, will feel extra pressure and be less likely to confide in other family members. During a pandemic, people are generally less able to continue with their usual routines and coping mechanisms - eg CLANGERS - connecting with support networks, learning, being active, spending time in nature, eating healthily, relaxing and sleeping well. They are also more likely to indulge in unhealty coping mechanisms such as excessive indulgence in news or unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol or drugs, violence or self-harm.
The final major factor in the mix is bereavement. Grief is a difficult process to go through even in more normal times, but with additional pressures, a sufferer is more likely to get stuck in one of the stages and be unable to more through into acceptance. When someone loses a parent, child or partner, they may feel that they have nothing left to live for and find it difficult to foresee a happy future for themselves. Those who believe in an afterlife may also yearn to join their loved one in a place of rest, convinced that would be a preferable option to continuing to live in the moral world. At a time when thousands have people have been bereaved because of COVID-19, we need to be aware of the signs of suicide and how to support anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Of course we won't know for some time (or ever, if the statisticians can't agree on how to compile the data) how many people have died as a direct result of COVID, and how many people have lost their jobs or been prevented from getting the job they would have had because of COVID, and given those who die by suicide are not always clear to others about the reasons for their decision, we may not even know how many people take their own lives as a direct result of COVID, but we do know that all of these things have a clear impact on mental health, which in turn affects levels of suicide.
What we do know, is that pre-COVID, many suicides were shown to be linked to unemployment and financial hardship.
According to the WHO, one in five suicides is linked to unemployment
Almost two thirds of those claiming health related benefits have had suicidal thoughts and are six times more likely than the general population to attempt to take their own lives.
Although statistically women are more likely to suffer from a mental health problem than men, they are more likely to seek help, so more men die by suicide each year, particularly middle aged men.
If your organisation does not consider the possibility and potential impact of an attempted or successful suicide amongst one of your staff members, you are lacking in your risk assessments. It is imperative that you equip your line managers, workforce influencers and mental health first aiders or champions with the skills to identify when someone is struggling and how to support them, as well as understanding where their responsibilty as work colleagues begins and ends. Too many managers either consider it to be a personal problem and don't want to get involved, or take on their colleague as a personal project, being available to them 24/7 and crossing professional boundaries. The ideal solution is to create a supportive environment and a culture of openess and non-judgement whilst ensuring you have the practical mechanisms in place for them to access support quickly and without cost to themselves. This is particularly important during times of organisational change, restructuring or redundancy when people who are already vulnerable can tip over into a dangerous state of mind.
Find out more about suicide here
One in 5 people say they are experiencing symptoms, as opposed to one in ten previously. It's hardly surprising that people have struggled with what has been a massive change to most of our lives and uncertainty about health, personal safety, availability of food, and job security as well as life limiting restrictions on our personal movement. For many people, especially those who live alone and have been unable to attend their usual workplace, isolation has significantly affected their mood. For some, their personal safety has been put at risk, either because of their risky working environment or because of an unstable home life.
Working from home is on the increase as technology allows increased flexibility in the office. But for many, this current period of isolation is a new experience and home working is providing some challenges. You've survived the first couple of weeks, but with no clear end date in sight, how can you thrive in the longer term?
Familiarity of routines may help you to feel more focussed and organise your time better. You need to be available to colleagues when you usually are and are more likely to be able to reach others during their standard working timetable. Lack of availability from either party will cause frustration and increase your workload.
Unless used to hot-desking, very few of us find we are able to completely clear our desks at the end of every day. Although we are increasingly operating in low-paper environments, there will be inevitable clutter associated with your work time. Have a designated space to carry out your work and somewhere to tidy your things to at the end of the day. Separating work from home physically and mentally as far as possible will help you to switch off at the end of the working day and create less conflict with the people you share your living space with.
With little or no notice for home working, some workers will be struggling with unsuitable tools to do their job. Accept that things won't be perfect or as you may have them in your usual workplace, but try to make reasonable adjustments to assist you and reduce your frustration or associated problems. If your internet connection is slow, consider upgrading. This can be arranged remotely and although may have additional costs associated with the change, it may be worth the investment and result in better productivity and less frustration. Your employer may be willing to help you with any costs in the short term. Likewise, carry out a basic risk assessment on your workstation. Use cushions and pads to ensure your back is supported if you are using a chair which is not designed for extended periods of sitting. If your screen is not at the correct height and you find yourself with neckache at the end of your shift, stack some books under it to elevate it to a comfortable level.
Particularly important if you are not fully comfortable at your temporary workstation, but also as you are likely to be spending more time staring at a screen, even during your leisure time, it is important to take breaks and vary your body stance. If you are on phone calls, stand up, try stretching and doing simple exercises for a few minutes in each hour to ensure your blood is flowing and your body doesn't become stiff. Even a break to make a drink or do the washing up and be a welcome change of posture. Ensure you take advantage of your daily outdoor exercise too for a complete change of scene and for fresh air.
Ideally you should be able to work in a separate room away from the other people in your property, but not everyone has this luxury. Therefore it's important to agree when you can and cannot be disturbed. This is particularly difficult if you have young children at home, but if you have another adult with you, enlist their support in ensuring certain times are quiet and uninterrupted, especially when in virtual meetings, unless you want to become a viral YouTube sensation!
Try to replicate your usual meeting routine, whilst taking the opportunity to drop anything that isn't productive. Review which meetings are worthwhile and continue them but take the opportunity to stop doing things that are more habit than use. Whilst video chat and telephone meetings are useful, it does mean more time on your phone. Give yourself the same rules as when in your usual workplace and don't let yourself be distracted by social media and personal calls. Activate unavailable messages where appropriate, turn off notifications during your working time and tell friends and family not to contact you during certain hours. This will allow you to be more productive.
Remote working can present additional challenges in working relationships. Without the same visual clues and social nicities, communication can be misinterpreted, particularly at a time when people may be more axious about their personal or financial situation, their job security, workload, deadlines or are just finding the change a struggle. Be extra sensitive to the possibility of upsetting people, use email to confirm verbal agreements where possible rather than relying on it and check in on people whom you haven't spoken to for a while. It's easy to get caught up in your own silo and forget to advise other stakeholders of what you are doing, so ensure you let people know what you are working on and ask about them, even if at first it may seem they will be unaffected. Ask colleagues how they are. They may welcome the opportunity to offload and appreciate your kindness.
It might be difficult for your line manager to review and recognise your progress during this period, so ensure you maintain your motivation by setting your own daily goals and reviewing your progress in achieving them. If there are obstacles which are preventing your success and you can't overcome them, allow more time to complete tasks and explain to your line manager what is different, Use your own feedback sandwich, listing your achievements, outlining what may not have been a success and summarising with the positive elements of how you are adjusting what you are doing and what you hope to achieve before you next report back. Don't wait to be asked. Your line manager has additional challenges too.
Speak to all of your team individually and as a group more regularly than you ordinarily might. Remember that these times may be a big change for them with new obstacles and additional workload. Consider that some people may be more prone to bouts of anxiety than others (not always who you imagine) and some may have additional health concerns which affect how well they perform. Try to adapt to the needs of each individual and underline your support for them and that you can be contacted if they need you. Ensure you organise group meetings too, which should allow time for personal interaction and exchange as well as covering the crucial business needs. It's important to make people that they are individuals and they matter and to acknowledge their successes and additional challenges as well as keeping information flowing more than usual.
With less supervision, people tend to gravitate towards the tasks they like to do rather than what is important for the business and if it's all part of their job role, why wouldn't they? Ensure you set SMART objectives as you usually would but think shorter term. Things in this climate are changing on a dailly basis and it's important to review and revise goals regularly, even if you think they may be unchanged. Rather than giving orders, ask where your team see their priorities and why. Work together to ensure the important things are done to deadline. Choose the right time and tone for any discussion about performance and goals.
Your team may need more reassurance at the moment. Give it! You will reap the rewards. Give praise where it is due and ensure successes are recognised. If there are negatives to be highlighted, prioritise what is urgent. Criticism is unlikely to be received as well over a telephone chat or video link (where many visual clues of response are lost on the untrained eye) as in person. Be clear but sensitive. Limit chat about the negative aspects of the news coverage. Some of your team may be struggling with the uncertainty and don't need further reinforcement in their work space. If you want to talk about current affairs, try to offset any negatives with a positive slant and always end any interraction with a positive statement or a light-hearted or humerous mood booster. Together you can do this!
Ensure that you're ready for that dreaded alarm call by doing as much preparation during the night before as possible. Decide what you are going to wear, remind yourself where you need to be and what the day has in store for you, make a healthy snack and ensure you are prepared for your journey (that there is fuel in the car, your train or bus ticket is valid and handy and your car actually starts). If you car share, maybe remind your lift or passenger of the pick-up time and wish them a Happy New Year). Most importantly, practice good sleep hygiene to do your best to be fresh for your first day.
Although there are many factors that can influence how well we sleep, there are some tried and tested dos and don'ts.
Try to think about what you enjoy about work, rather than the things you like less. Remind yourself of all the good things you did during the previous year and congratulate yourself on your successes. Focus on what helped you to succeed and resolve to repeat that success and start afresh with projects and colleagues.
Start by organising your desk and workload. Declutter your workspace, shred old files, reorganise your folders and tackle your bursting email inbox. Rather than dealing with each item in chronological order, take time to prioritise and manage your first week effectively, creating a realistic 'to do list' and scheduling meetings and deadlines for the following days and weeks. Catch up with colleagues and clients to establish their priorities to help you set your goals to benefit everyone in the team.
Set goals and SMART objectives for your new start
When you have seen what is on your list, decide on your goals for the day, then look at the next few days, and finally look longer term. Be clear with anyone pushing you to meet an unrealistic deadline that the quality of work may suffer if sufficient time is not available for you to give their project your full attention and be sure to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't.
Don't feel you need to do everything in the first day. If you feel tired at the end of your working day but still have things to do, go home and schedule additional time for when you are more able to cope with the pace and demands of your working day. Make the most of supportive colleagues and be a supportive colleague to others if you are coping well.
Be kind to yourself. Take proper scheduled breaks and kick start your diet and exercise resolutions by making healthy choices. Better to have a 10 minute brisk walk in the fresh air, than spend 30 minutes moaning to a colleague. Better to have a nutrient-rich light lunch than to skip a meal.
Speak to your line manager or HR about how you are feeling. If you don't feel any better after a couple of days, review your wellbeing plan and how well you are looking after your physical and mental health. If things haven't improved after a few weeks, it's time to get to the bottom of the problem. There may be things about your work or personal life that you need to change. If you need help to identify what's bothering you, counselling support may help.
To book a session, contact your nearest CCC reception.
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Try and look at your company culture objectively. If most people consistently work a 70 hour week, despite being on a 40 hour contract, any new people will observe and slip into the cultural norm. Whilst this might give you short term gains, staff will quickly develop burnout, feel exploited, work out their hourly rate, and worst of all, not make productive use of the time they are working, instead using the time to bemoan their plight to other co-workers and spread feelings of resentment towards the organisation. If the managers and sending and expecting replies to emails at 11pm and 5am, staff will feel that their personal time is being invaded. If managers are dictatorial and dogmatic rather than collaborative, or take credit for the achievements of their staff and blame them for their mistakes, any colleagues promoted to those positions will behave in that way because that is what they have experienced from their managers.
To change the social norms, encourage managers to listen to staff and work as a team to provide solutions to problems rather than imposing new process. If people feel that they have been part of the solution, they are much more engaed in trying to make it work. Encourage staff to take breaks, work effectively rather than long hours, and reward achievement. Encourage a collaborative approach and an open environment where problems can be discussed openly without fear of retribution. Put in place a structure wellbeing programme to promote good physical and mental health and encourage people to work together to maintain their health in a mutually supportive environment.
Whilst success is seen as reaching the top of the management structure, earning most money, reaping most benefits and stamping on others to get where you want to be, a dog eat dog culture will prevail. Encourage initiative which promote a kinder, more supportive workplace and strive for happiness. Allow people to be who they are, provided it doesn't negatively impact others, encourage volunteering and helping others, both at work and as part of a society, and promote healthy living - both physically and mentally. Redfine success as living authentically, purposefully and healthily and promote the goal of creating a better environment in the workplace.
If people exist only as individuals they eventually feel isolated and in competition with their colleagues. Teams need to know each other and understand each other's strengths and weaknesses in order to be able to function effectively. Difference should be embraced. Although most research shows that our natural instincts are to surround ourselves with like-linded personalities with a common ethos, team building models all recognise that in order for projects to succeed, a variety of skillsets and approaches are necessary. A team full of 'completer finishers' will never make any changes or get anything implemented, whereas a room full of plants will conflict and not see projects through to the end. Encourage teamwork and help people to recognise where they fit and how they contribute.
If new staff are just given a workspace and a job specification and left to achieve their goals independently, they will bring the culture from their old workplace, which is always a bit of a gamble. People recreate what they already know as it is the path of least resistance, but if this doesn't match with your culture or where you want to be, there will be conflict. So don't leave it to chance. When new people join you, assign a buddy who already demonstrates the culture you are aiming for. Ensure they introduce the new person to all of the specialists, that they know where to go for help and that it's OK to ask for help, and most importantly, ensure that it's more important to be kind, collaborative and supportive than to shine by being selfish, isolated and concerned only with the success of their department. Introduce the idea of shared goals, company-wide success and humanity.
If we do not actively create the culture we want, another culture will develop on its own, which could be terminally damaging to the reputation and sustainability of your organisation.