With millions of people now sinking into despair, make sure your mental health initiatives don’t just focus on those still able to help themselves.

The impact of the pandemic on our mental health is that one in five people who had never experienced e a mental health issue before, now say their mental health is ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’1. Many people are finding themselves crying all the time or feeling angry or upset on a daily basis and wondering what’s wrong with them.

Many of these individuals will be trying to reassure themselves that others have it much worse, leading to a reluctance to access beneficial support services, such as an employee assistance programme, because of a misguided belief that they’re only for people who are really in crisis or because of concerns about confidentiality.

This is a worrying trend, because once someone starts to feel hopeless or worthless, their ability to reach out for help is greatly reduced. So, this month we look at three ways to reach beyond those feeling stressed and anxious but still able to help themselves – the ‘worried well’ – to explain how best to support those starting to fall into despair.

Three ways to reach beyond the worried well

1. Enlist the support of managers

Managers have a vital role to play when it comes to supporting the mental health and resilience of their teams, by regularly checking in with their employees to not only talk work, but also to find out how they’re coping.

Instead of asking closed questions, such as: “Is everything good with you?” which will inevitably lead to a “Fine, thanks.” Managers should be encouraged to ask open questions, such as: ‘How are you supporting and taking care of yourself at the moment?’ ‘How much interaction are you getting with other people compared to what you think you need?’ or ‘Is anything making you feel overwhelmed?’

This might seem intrusive or feel uncomfortable, because most managers would much rather have a conversation about what needs to be done this week, than explore the emotional state of their team. Yet by shifting the focus onto the person rather than the job, the employee can feel sufficiently supported, listened to and valued so they will actually be better able to work effectively and more likely to perform well.

2. Create a psychologically safe workplace

Aim to create a psychologically safe environment (be that onsite or remote), where employees feel secure talking about how they’re coping and the challenges affecting their mental health; for example, feeling sad that their family has chosen to bubble with their siblings but not them this Christmas, or frustrated that they can’t use the gym anymore because exercising was their way of unwinding after work, or anxious that their child’s class has been sent home to isolate, bringing back the pressures of having to juggle work and home schooling.

It can also be helpful for managers to acknowledge and talk about their own emotions; for example, by admitting: ‘I’ve had a tough week this week, this and that happened, but I’m still here for everyone if you need to talk.’

This is essential to destigmatising mental health and allowing people to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, be themselves and ask for support when needed, without having to hide any personal challenges they’re going through for fear of judgement, repercussion or ridicule.

3. Keep employees inside their window of tolerance

We all have a personal ‘window of tolerance’ which gives us the capacity to manage our emotions and cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life. We may experience events and worries that bring us close to the edge of our window – but so long as we’re inside it, we can generally use strategies to cope and benefit from valuable initiatives such as one-off mental health training and awareness sessions.

Make sure managers are aware of the signs that an employee is outside of their window of tolerance, or ‘out of sorts’, which might include an emotional outburst or the person becoming increasingly withdrawn, forgetful or error-prone. If managers are worried, it can be helpful for them to be aware of all the support services in place, including any option for them to proactively refer people for counselling, so the manager can suggest that they think they’d benefit from talking to a counsellor to offload and learn some coping strategies.

This sort of proactive approach is particularly important for employees who have just started to sink because, once someone starts to feel hopeless or worthless, their ability to reach out for help is greatly reduced. Sometimes even one hour spent talking to a counsellor can help them to get back inside their personal ‘window of tolerance’ so they feel better able to cope.

Louise Abbs is the managing director of PAM Wellbeing

How Can PAM Wellbeing Help?


A one-hour session for employees to talk to a professional counsellor, in confidence, about any issues causing them stress or anxiety, to develop coping strategies. Can be used as a manager referral solution for someone starting to sink, or offered as an employee benefit for everyone in a team.

PAM Assist (EAP)

A free, confidential round-the-clock helpline, providing access to clinical and professional advisors, who can provide counselling and support with regard to work, relationships, stress, anxiety, health concerns, family care, legal issues, finances and debt. Managers can also call for advice on supporting individuals.

PAM DayOne

Start-to-finish absence management that supports people back into work. Calls answered by PAM-employed qualified nurses, who direct employees to OH, physio, counselling or EAP services, while keeping managers updated. Service can be upgraded to include next-day coronavirus testing.

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