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Mental health and wellbeing: Opening the conversation

Starting a conversation about mental health and wellbeing can be tough. We routinely ask each other ‘Are you OK?’ but the unwritten rule is that we feel the response should be ‘Yes, I am fine.’

‘What is on your mind?’ might be a better opener but it requires the ability to hold more of a conversation and in a safe place.

The behaviours and emotions described in this section do not represent an exhaustive list and the ‘signs’ may be as subtle as feeling out of sync or lacking interest or enthusiasm for work.

How to spot the signs

It is important to be able to recognise the characteristics that those at the steady to thriving end of the wellness continuum might display, some of which are listed below:

People with balanced or thriving mental wellbeing:

  • feel self-confident and have high self-esteem
  • are able to feel and express a range of emotions
  • are engaged with the world around them
  • live and work productively
  • are able to adapt to changing circumstances.

Taken from www.mind.org.uk

Common behaviours to look for as signs of struggling are summarised below, although these lists are not exhaustive. These may be behaviours that you are experiencing yourself or behaviours that you are seeing in a colleague.

Physical signs associated with poor mental wellbeing: Emotional signs associated with poor mental wellbeing: Behaviours at work associated with poor mental wellbeing:
Frequent headaches Irritability or tearfulness Errors
Difficulty sleeping Being socially withdrawn Missed deadlines
Constant tiredness Difficulty making decisions Taking on too much
Feeling run down Depending on caffeine, smoking etc to get through the day Working too much (first in, last out)
Lack of care over appearance Loss of confidence Frequent sickness
Weight loss or weight gain Difficulty remembering things Excessive use of grievance procedures

Adapted from www.changeboard.com

The importance of connecting with colleagues is highlighted here: by getting to know colleagues across disciplines, it becomes easier to spot the signs that someone is out of balance or struggling.

How to start a conversation

Five ways to start a conversation about mental health

You may find these five tips from #TimeToChange helpful in opening up the conversation:

  • don’t wait for the perfect moment
  • ask twice
  • talk about yourself
  • approach the elephant in the room
  • it doesn’t have to be face to face

Mental Health First Aid has some other conversation openers that you might find useful.

Take 10 minutes

Mental Health First Aid England (and Mental Health at Work) is encouraging and supporting each of us to take 10 minutes (#take10together) to start a conversation with someone (at work) about mental wellbeing.

By opening up the conversation about mental wellbeing we can start to deconstruct the barriers that prevent physicians from meeting their own mental wellbeing needs.

How to access training 

You may wish to access training in suicide and self-harm mitigation and your ability to compassionately respond to someone who has suicidal thoughts or following self-harm.

Connecting with People is a range of training packages delivered by 4 Mental Health Ltd for a range of sectors, including healthcare, social care, statutory bodies and communities.

Modular training includes bite-sized suicide awareness and response courses and resources and training for young people, professionals and the wider community

BMJ Best Practice has comprehensive training on suicide risk management that can be accessed through a personal subscription or access via your institution or via a free 7-day trial.

Find out more

The RCP’s Mental health and wellbeing resource aims to support physicians to stay well and seek help when needed by opening up the conversation about mental health issues and their impact.