· 2 min read · Features

Let’s use World Mental Health Day to start some great new habits


World Mental Health Day is more important than ever as we face into our first UK winter disrupted by COVID-19.

The current situation means more people are likely to struggle with their mental wellbeing, which makes this year’s theme of 'mental health for all’ particularly poignant.

Mental health for all means all of us looking after our mental health all the time. While World Mental Health Day kicks off a conversation, it’s crucial that ongoing discussions around mental health are inclusive, accessible and help to remove the stigma. It’s a message that our profession has a huge responsibility to reinforce and one we really try to instil for our people at Aviva.

Of course, looking after employees is simply the right thing to do. Businesses know they can only look after customers if they care for and support their people. So I am proud to work for an organisation that has a history of prioritising mental wellbeing.

Protecting mental health also informed our actions during lockdown. In March, we offered our people a wealth of mental health and wellbeing resources, from remote leadership guides to virtual yoga classes and apps. We also invested in training on the emotive and difficult issue of domestic abuse, through our partnership with the domestic abuse charity SafeLives.

I’m no expert but I know mental health is critical and complex. It’s important to respond as broadly as possible, so there’s something available for everyone, whatever their circumstances. And it is vital organisations have a culture in which employees can ask for help and tell someone if, and when, things are tough. Leaders have such an important role to play here.

Shorter days and less opportunity to get outside combined with the uncertainty of local lockdowns or additional distancing measures may test our mental wellbeing and emotional resilience. And this is exacerbated by us working remotely.

We may be physically distanced, but technology means we don’t have to be socially isolated. If there is one lesson from the past six months, it’s the importance of kindness and connection.

We have all accepted and understood a little more about each other, from the pressures of juggling family life or caring responsibilities with work to the burden of loneliness or grief. All of these things influence our mental wellbeing.

If this has impacted you, you’re not alone. Many people are affected by anxiety and depression and there is help available. Please just tell someone. We all need to look out for our own mental wellbeing and that of our families, friends and colleagues in the same way that we would our physical health.

Read more:

A clear mind in turbulent times: profile James Glover, HRD of Mind

Employees believe mental health conditions impede career progression

How to support employees with increasing health anxiety

The most important things we can all do are:

  1. Talk about mental health openly to remove the stigma.
  2. Ask how people are feeling and listen to the answer so that we know if they need help and can then point them in the direction of the right support. We don’t need to have the answers or the solutions. Leave that to the experts as you would with any other health issue.
  3. And finally, as I always say to my children, be kind... remember, you never know what someone else might be dealing with.

During October, Aviva colleagues will be sharing their mental health stories. It’s a brave thing to do. Having read a couple of the stories I’m full of admiration and I know we will all benefit from having a deeper understanding of what some of our colleagues have faced.

I’m reminding myself to take a moment to check in on my own mental health too. For me, exercise is key but we are all different so finding something that works for you is important. And let’s use World Mental Health Day to start some great new habits; to ask people how they are, to listen, and to be kind to each other and to ourselves.

Danny Harmer is chief people officer at Aviva