Supporting mental health brings rewards
Caroline Marr (wearing the dress) and Tina Butler (in black) have a unique manager-employee relationship built on mutual understanding and more than half a decade working together.
Hearing them talk you can see that they balance each other out; they respect each other’s strengths; are open about their failings; and believe in working through any misunderstandings or challenges that come their way.
It wasn’t always the case. When Caroline first employed Tina as a shop assistant for clothing line The Carpenter’s Daughter, all she knew was that Tina had retail talent and a giving heart.
The pair soon ended up in situations where they both felt lost about what was happening.
Tina explains: “I found myself feeling pushed in the role, and with my underlying mental distress I couldn’t cope, so I had meltdowns and explosions. It wasn’t subtle.”
Caroline says she noticed how Tina was reacting to things, but she didn’t know what she’d done. “She would pull away and leave. I wanted her to explain to me why she was reacting that way, so I could understand.”
Talking about mental health is important
Not knowing and not understanding can be one of the biggest barriers in a workplace. That’s why Caroline and Tina both think that open communication about your mental health is important and relevant.
Tina believes that if employers have an understanding about an employee’s mental health then any difficulties can be worked through and resolved. For her it’s led to less judgement and potential discrimination, because she was able to discuss things with Caroline.
Caroline says she’s learnt a lot and is more observant and patient as a result. “It was a learning experience for me, but it’s easy to talk at our work now we’re open. You just have to care about the other person and ask, ‘Is everything okay?’ and then support them.”
Flexible approaches lead to happy workplaces
Tina believes – and Caroline confirms – that her experience of mental distress means she has a lot more empathy for people.
“When I hear about customers' problems it’s nice to comfort them and show you understand what they’re dealing with,” Tina says.
Caroline adds, “Tina has a softness that makes customers gravitate towards her. She gives them a safe place to offload their baggage and feel okay about it.”
In return, Tina enjoys some flexibility in her work hours. That allows her to take ‘helpful stops’, so she can breathe and refuel in what is often a high-energy environment with high expectations.
If Tina is more unwell, Caroline is happy for Tina to reduce her hours, and then increase them again slowly as she recovers.
“We’ve done that recently,” Caroline says. “And because we’ve got history, I know what she can achieve and I know not to pile too many things on her.”
Supporting a colleague or employee experiencing mental distress brings its own rewards.
“Everything is smoother, there are no ripples,” Caroline says. “It’s a much nicer environment to the point where Tina sometimes can joke about it…and it’s fine.”
“It’s an awesome feeling when you’re supported, valued and told you have something to offer,” Tina says. “I’d like to see others in working environments where they’re free to communicate and express their mental health issues and not be judged as being weak.”
(Caroline and Tina feature in an Open Minds video produced by the Mental Health Foundation in collaboration with the Attitude Group and on behalf of the Like Minds, Like Mine programme.)