Work-related mental health
What is work related mental health?
There are many work related factors that can impact on mental wellbeing and potentially cause or contribute to psychological harm (i.e. stress, anxiety, distress, trauma). They could be related to the particular work that people do for the BBC (which may be traumatic or distressing in some way, i.e. reporting in hostile environments, making documentaries on sensitive topics, viewing graphic images) or more about day to day factors relevant to any workplace, such as workload, sense of control, working relationships etc. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about trauma and stress; people may experience a range of negative emotional reactions and psychological injuries as a result of the work they do for the BBC.
This aspect of mental health can also be referred to as psychological safety. Psychological safety is concerned with managing the work related hazards that can cause psychological harm.
In terms of work related stress, there is a well-researched set of factors, that when experienced negatively, can lead to workplace stress (work demands, relationships, sense of control, role clarity, support and change) and as a manager it’s important to understand and manage these factors to try and avoid / reduce workplace stress. There are a number of tools to help you do this –the BBC staff survey and the Health and Safety Executives (HSE) model for managing stress (see external links section).
Psychological trauma can come from covering wars and violence but also from natural disasters, intense human distress, graphic court cases or personal tragedies. People don’t always have to be directly involved either to become traumatised (known as vicarious or secondary trauma) and trauma isn’t always a one off, it can also build up over time (repetitive or cumulative trauma). People can respond in a variety of ways to trauma and most often peoples’ reactions settle down over a period of time. In rare cases people do go on to develop serious mental health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and require professional help.
As a manager, what steps can I take to reduce the likelihood of work related mental ill health / manage psychological safety in my team?
There are three key areas to consider in order to reduce the impact of work related factors on mental health.
- Identify the specific risks in the workplace and try to remove / reduce them where possible. This is essentially about considering whether there is anything that can be done differently when people are put ‘in harm’s way’ due to their work, whether that is reporting in a war zone, making a documentary about a distressing subject or dealing with a challenging workload. Sometimes there are factors which are difficult or impossible to remove / reduce because they are inherent in working practices or cultural norms for example, but it’s important to attempt to understand and capture the risks and think about how people may be harmed psychologically at work. In the same way that this is done for physical safety risks. You can speak to your local Safety Advisor about how to identify psychological risks for your teams (as well as contributors to programmes) and develop a risk assessment that takes account of the psychological risks for the programme / deployment / project alongside physical risks. Please see the recommended links section for an example psychological safety risk assessment for discussion with your Safety Advisor.
- When psychological hazards in the workplace have been identified, it’s important to develop appropriate control measures. These will be unique to the situation, but may involve things like altering the frequency and duration of exposure to psychological hazards (whether that’s distressing content or excessive workloads), considering breaks and rest periods, introducing strategies for dealing with exposure to cumulative trauma, talking about the potential psychological risks before, during and after an assignment / programme (particularly in terms of trauma, as this serves to normalise the reactions people may experience and encourage help seeking), ensuring people know what to do if they have been affected (i.e. self care, support services).
- Provide or signpost support for those who are affected – if someone becomes psychologically unwell or experiences a significant negative reaction in relation to their work, then appropriate support should be signposted. This could be the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a BBC Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) assessment, Occupational Health, the individual’s GP or other external services. You may also wish to contact HR’s Manager Advice Service for assistance.
“There is also guidance available for programme teams on managing the psychological safety and well-being of contributors to BBC programmes (see Useful Documents)”.
What help is available?
BBC employees can access information, training and confidential support in relation to assessing and managing potential traumatic / psychological risks (see Recommended Links).
The BBC also has a network of trained staff who are able to advise and support colleagues who have been involved in a one-off traumatic event and identify those in need of further professional help. They are trained in an approach called Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) which was pioneered in the UK Military (see Useful Documents for list of BBC TRiM trained staff).
BBC News Group have also produced some video and reference material about encountering trauma when working in journalism. This includes witnessing, reporting on, producing, editing or recording news stories that can all prompt strong emotional reactions. There is also guidance on managing psychological safety for those who work with graphic material – see Recommended Links.
It’s important to remember that experiencing strong feelings or reactions after witnessing or encountering a traumatic event is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that people will go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But people may well need help or support to come to terms with the experience.
If you are involved in interviewing emotionally vulnerable people, you can also access training on this – see Recommended Links for the Interviewing Traumatised People training.
Where can I find out more?
You can find out more about the BBC’s approach to trauma support through the relevant links. You can also access details of the upcoming TRiM courses if you are interested in becoming a practitioner for the BBC and supporting others. TRiM practitioners are also part of the BBC’s Mental Health Network, which includes Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) too.
The BBC’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provides specialist support in relation to psychological trauma. This combines the offering of structured telephone counselling and a trauma programme where appropriate. One of the things that many people find helpful is to understand their reactions as normal responses to an abnormal event. Understanding what is happening in their body and brain can give them a sense of control. Importantly, they can then help their body and brain to settle down and move on from the event by using strategies that are tried and tested. To access the EAP, please see details in the recommended links section.
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