Many of us who work in an IPS Provision are in daily contact with individuals experiencing poor mental health. We are well versed in early warning signs, diagnoses and what they mean, medication names and types of therapy. Coping techniques and management strategy’s role off our tongue and are as normal to us as numbers are to an accountant.  

It is easy to forget, sometimes, that mental health does not have to have a diagnostic label attached to it. It is a spectrum, and we all fall somewhere on that spectrum, depending on external and internal factors in our lives.  

If we are constantly surrounded by mental health, why do we, as workers in that field, sometimes neglect our own wellbeing?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to this, but I do know it is something that I have been guilty of. On more than one occasion, I have sat filling out In Work Support Plans and Wellbeing at Work Plans, discussing with my clients the importance of taking a lunch break, keeping hydrated, having regular breaks away from the desk (little things, but they make a difference), only to look at the clock and realise the day has run away with me and I’ve yet to eat lunch!   

I often describe myself as a sponge – I listen to people all day, trying to problem solve, and absorb all those problems into my brain.

To stay on top of things, I need to squeeze out my sponge on a regular basis and learn to deal with people’s problems and what I am told in confidence in an appropriate way, to ensure I can continue to excel at my job.  

I have learnt the hard way about the importance of mental health at work. A couple of years ago, I had to take some time out of work because of stress. I had taken too much on, afraid of using the word no, and subsequently found myself unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, irritable, emotional, and highly anxious. Since returning to work, I have tried to focus much more on my own mental health and advocated the importance of this to my team members.  

Here are my top tips on how to manage your mental health at work:  

  1. Remember who you are outside of work. I guess this could also be called having a Work/Life Balance. Although work is a huge part of our identity, it does not have to be the entirety of who we are. It is important to have hobbies or interests outside of work, and a social network that extends outside of your colleagues. So, if work isn’t going so great, and I am in a bit of a slump, I can go and do something I enjoy, see people I love, and forget about work for a bit. For me, it is baking, swimming, sewing, and kayaking, as well as spending time with my nephew.  
  2. Know your limitations and learn to say no. I am a people pleaser, always have been, always will be. I guess that in part, I was attracted to this job because it involved working with people. Before my episode of stress, I never said no. But it is so important to say no sometimes – when your caseload is too high, when someone is expecting too much of you or the service you can offer, when you are at capacity – protect yourself and your mental health and politely say no – explain why.  
  3. Take your breaks! The simplest suggestion, also probably the one most of us do not follow. Take your lunch break – leave your desk. Have a break from the screen – go for a walk, stretch, make a cup of tea. We are not made to sit at desks all day. (especially if you are still working from home!)   
  4. Have someone in the workplace you can go to (a ‘buddy’ as such). Mine is my IPS Supervisor and she is fabulous. I know that if I am having a bad day, I can let her know. I have been working with her a long time, so she knows what signs to look out for that indicate I am experiencing poor mental health or stress. I guess as an addition – be honest – people can’t mind read or guess what you are feeling so it is better to tell them.  
  5. Take your own advice and recommendations. As I said earlier, we are great at making recommendations to clients about ways to stay well at work, but not great at following them ourselves! Give yourself an hour one day and fill in a wellbeing at work plan – share it with colleagues you feel comfortable with and use it when you are not feeling so great one day.  

Look after yourself – you can’t pour from an empty vessel; you can’t look after people if you don’t look after yourself first.  

Please click here to find out more about Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the incredible work they do to support people with mental health issues back into work. 

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust