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Abigail Hirshman: Not waiting for the 'ow' moment

Monday 04 February 2019

Abigail Hirshman, Senior Adviser at Acas discusses mental health.

Abigail Hirshman Abigail Hirshman

Abigail is an Acas Senior Adviser based in Birmingham.





A few months ago I decided to join my local gym. In typical fashion, I ignored all the advice about starting slowly and went hell for leather, signing up for a new exercise class each day.

After a few weeks, I felt a sharp pain in my calf. 'Ow', that hurt but I carried on. And so, started a pattern of 'ow', ignoring it, rest, 'ow' ignoring it, rest etc. My determination in my formative years to avoid exercise at all costs (my equivalent 'dog ate my homework' excuses to get out of PE were legendary) had now gone full circle to an 'I will not give up' obsession.

It all went horribly wrong when in the middle of body attack (aerobics is so 90's) my calf went 'pop'. I limped home, got some medical advice and started my recovery programme. At work, colleagues asked why I was limping, so I readily shared my story, and spoke to my manager about any issues that may come up.

This got me thinking about how I react when my mental health is feeling the strain. How I and many of us, tend to ignore the 'ow' moment, and plough on. The mental 'pop' is pretty inevitable; though the point at which it will occur will vary hugely. Maybe it manifests in a panic attack, or not being able to face coming into work or just not being able to think straight anymore.

It can affect how we interact with others and even if colleagues or our manager notice that we seem different, would they know what to say, or have the time to ask? Asking someone about their physical wellbeing still seems much easier than asking about someone's mental health.

At Acas we have been working to encourage employers, managers and individuals to work together to help break the stigma of mental ill health. Our daily interactions through our helpline, online and face to face advisory services shows that UK plc both needs to have, and more encouragingly, is ready to have the conversation.  

Starting the conversation can be difficult though. How do we find time to talk in today's hectic, 'always on' workplaces? We have run out of time on social interactions generally and this is even more relevant for remote and flexi workers who often miss out on those crucial watercooler moments. One place to start could be marking Time to Talk Day on 7 February, this could be anything from talking to a new colleague, having a team lunch or scheduling in a planned event where people get together and learn a bit more about mental health.

Time to talk also means time to listen and this is where employers can make a real difference. Creating workplaces where managers and individuals have time in their working day to talk and be listened to sounds simple, but how many times does that scheduled 1:1 get replaced with a more urgent meeting? Or having a space where people can eat their lunch, away from the desk? This won't only give people a chance to have a chat, but also has a positive impact on productivity as rest breaks are essential for recovery and re-engagement.

So let's all help Time to Change work not just on February 7 but on every day of the year. Let's not wait for the 'ow' moment before we decide to open up with a colleague or offer a friendly ear. Here is a short video of me finding time to talk about our new framework ...


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