Every year in October, the United Nations focuses on mental health. We all need a sense of belonging. The motto for this year's campaign, led by Mental Health Norway, is #MakeSpace. The aim is to enhance our knowledge, understanding, and openness about factors that improve and impair mental health, and to create engagement and initiatives that strengthen mental well-being for the population.
It has been over 30 years since World Mental Health Day was established as a UN day. The day is observed in 150 countries, and here in Norway, it is marked in weeks 39-42 at workplaces, schools, municipalities, and organizations.
Do meetings automatically reduce loneliness?
Last year, World Mental Health Day entered a new three-year strategic phase focusing on collective efforts against loneliness and exclusion—central challenges for mental well-being. This year’s campaign encourages making our key meeting places more inclusive and to create space. Meaningful interactions are important for combating loneliness, but mere invitations to join a community are not enough. The community must also see and accept you for who you are.
One in five people in Norway experience discrimination based on illness, gender, age, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.
A study from OsloMet revealed that applicants who are open about mental health challenges in job applications received 27% fewer interview invitations compared to other candidates with similar education and experience. (www.verdensdagen.no)
Having meaningful social meeting places, whether at work or privately, is important for a sense of mastery, networking, and preventing exclusion, according to a NORCE report. Actions that strengthen the perception of social support are health-promoting and can help reduce both mental and physical discomfort.
Our social networks greatly impact our health, especially social support. By social support, we mean the extent to which one feels they have close relationships, people who care, and someone to ask for help. (Helsedirektoratet.no) Simply put, to be met, seen, and matter to others.
Thus, we need more platforms where we can create good interactions across generations, cultures, personalities, opinions, and experiences. This fosters understanding and counters loneliness, stigma, and exclusion. The workplace is one such platform where we can encounter others and experience social support.
"No one is just what you see. Stigma is fed by shame and silence but shrinks when we talk openly about it." (www.verdensdagen.no)
Social support also has more indirect effects, like offering protection to our health when exposed to stressful life events.
Four types of social support:
- Emotional support (showing interest, care, and recognition)
- Affirmative support (providing realistic feedback on experiences and behavior)
- Informative support (offering good information in challenging times, like crises)
- Practical support (Source: James House, 1981)
All are important for our quality of life as such support enhances our ability to cope with life's challenges. Among these, emotional support weighs the heaviest.
So important is social support that it is enshrined in the Norwegian Work Environment Act, Section 4-3 (2): "Work should be designed to allow for contact and communication with other employees in the enterprise." Therefore, contact with others is not just desirable and preventive but also a legal requirement.
This year's campaign wishes for all of us to create space and contribute wherever we can, either at work or privately, by acknowledging each other.
The twin sister to loneliness is uselessness (Cormac Russell, 2019)
We may all face life situations where we need help. Other times, we may be the ones offering essential support. Research shows that it is possible to be in a vulnerable situation and yet be a significant resource to others. Being useful to others is crucial for strengthening our own mental health, especially when struggling.
A study conducted by YouGov in collaboration with World Mental Health Day in 2016 and 2017 shows that as a society, we have contributed to more openness surrounding mental health. However, on an individual level, we still find it easier to talk about our physical health than our mental health. (Source: Mentalhelse.no)
We Need Each Other
Feeling valued as a human being affects our quality of life, health, and community life. We need to feel that we matter to others throughout our lives. Experiencing oneself as significant depends on other people and the society around us. As individuals, this is about lifting our gaze and caring for each other, acknowledging this mutual dependence. If some are not given the opportunity to participate, resulting in divisions between "us" and "them," the consequences, such as polarization and exclusion, matter to all of us. A "we-and-they" mindset is neither socially nor economically sustainable.
A society that includes everyone requires that we encounter people who live differently than we do. Otherwise, we risk losing our collective ability for empathy and solidarity, where diversity is recognized as a resource for all.
As individuals, this means being curious about those different from ourselves and seeing them as strong contributors regardless of their life situation. For example, this means being acknowledged as a human being, not as a representative of a group. International studies show that companies with great diversity perform better, are more creative, and have a more varied workday. To succeed, we must tolerate and recognize each other’s differences. World Mental Health Day, therefore, encourages observances that facilitate good and meaningful interactions between diverse people.
What Can You Do?
Does this mean we should act as psychologists for each other? No, but we can be good colleagues and fellow humans. By being preventive, like including everyone, we can counter exclusion and loneliness. In the workplace, the most important thing we do is contribute to an inclusive and supportive work environment, which in turn benefits us, according to research. A win-win situation, indeed.
Become a Better Listener:
- Stay focused - put aside anything that can disturb
- Show that you are listening. Use body language, eye contact, and nods.
- Avoid interrupting. Give time and space for the one speaking.
- Summarize what the other person says. Use your words and be open to clarifications.
- Follow up with questions. Be curious and ask open-ended questions.
- Pay attention. What do you read from body language, tone, and mood?
- Summarize together. Show that you have listened and understood the essence of what has been said.
- (Source: World Mental Health Day)
Want to know more about:
What can you do to prevent mental ill-health in the workplace?
We, the HR team at Azets, have experience with challenges in the workplace and know how to facilitate good conversations. Feel free to contact us for an informal chat!