Causes and Signs of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health is a widespread issue that affects millions of people around the world. It can manifest in different ways and can impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. In this blog, we will explore what poor mental health is, its common causes, and how it can be managed.

What is Poor Mental Health?

Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts how we feel, think, and behave in our daily lives. Poor mental health occurs when a person experiences mental health issues that negatively impact their ability to function effectively. This can include conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, among others.

Common Causes of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health can arise from a variety of factors, including biological, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Some common causes of poor mental health include:

  1. Trauma – Experiencing a traumatic event such as abuse, neglect, or violence can lead to poor mental health outcomes.
  2. Genetics – Some mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be inherited.
  3. Chemical imbalances – A chemical imbalance in the brain can contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  4. Substance abuse – Substance abuse can lead to poor mental health outcomes, such as addiction and depression.
  5. Social isolation – Social isolation and loneliness can lead to poor mental health outcomes, particularly in older adults.

Managing Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. However, there are steps that individuals can take to manage poor mental health, including:

  1. Seeking professional help – Talking to a mental health professional can provide support, guidance, and treatment for poor mental health outcomes.
  2. Practicing self-care – Engaging in activities that promote physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones, can help manage poor mental health.
  3. Building a support network – Building a support network of friends, family, and other trusted individuals can provide emotional support and help manage stress.
  4. Managing stress – Practicing stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques, can help manage poor mental health outcomes.

In conclusion, poor mental health is a common issue that can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. It can arise from various factors, including genetics, trauma, chemical imbalances, substance abuse, and social isolation. However, there are steps individuals can take to manage poor mental health, such as seeking professional help, practicing self-care, building a support network, and managing stress. It’s essential to prioritize mental health and seek help when needed to promote overall well-being and a better quality of life.

Blog written by Mel Stead, Managing Director of Optimal HR Services and Trustee of Unmasked Mental Health

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

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The importance of a good night’s sleep – WORLD SLEEP DAY – 17TH MARCH 2023

Sleep is essential for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s a natural process that allows our bodies and brains to rest, repair, and recharge. Unfortunately, many of us underestimate the importance of sleep and neglect to get enough of it. Poor sleep habits can have a significant impact on our health and quality of life. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the ways that poor sleep can affect us.

  1. Reduced cognitive function

One of the most significant impacts of poor sleep is a decrease in cognitive function. Lack of sleep can impair attention, memory, and decision-making abilities. It can also affect our reaction time, making it more challenging to process information quickly and accurately. This can be particularly problematic in situations where we need to be alert, such as driving or operating machinery.

  1. Mood disturbances

Poor sleep has also been linked to mood disturbances, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. Sleep helps regulate our emotions and manage stress. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more stress hormones, which can contribute to these negative emotions.

  1. Weakened immune system

Sleep is essential for our immune system to function correctly. During sleep, our bodies produce cytokines, which are essential for fighting off infections and inflammation. If we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies may not produce enough cytokines, leaving us more susceptible to illness.

  1. Weight gain

Poor sleep has also been linked to weight gain. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, and less of the hormone leptin, which signals fullness. This can lead to overeating and weight gain over time.

  1. Increased risk of chronic diseases

Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. This is likely due to the impact poor sleep has on our immune system, metabolism, and cardiovascular health.

  1. Impaired physical performance

Finally, poor sleep can also impair physical performance. Lack of sleep can affect our coordination, reaction time, and endurance, making it more challenging to exercise or perform physical tasks.

In conclusion, poor sleep can have a significant impact on our health and quality of life. It’s essential to prioritize sleep and establish healthy sleep habits to ensure we get the rest we need to function at our best. Some tips for improving sleep include sticking to a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and ensuring our sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep. With a little effort and attention to our sleep habits, we can reap the benefits of good-quality sleep and enjoy better health and well-being.

Blog is written by Mel Stead, Managing Director, Optimal HR Services

How To Manage Neurodiversity in the Workplace

In this week’s blog, Matthew Brain, our in-house Employment Solicitor discusses Neurodiversity and what responsibilities employers have to employees who identify as Neurodivergent.

Neurodiversity refers to the various ways in which the brain receives, interprets and processes information and/or situations in different ways. Those who identify as neurodivergent may have conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Tourette`s Syndrome and various mental health conditions e.g. bipolar and OCD.

Despite neurodiverse individuals often having valuable and beneficial skills to offer in the workplace (for example, they typically display high attention to detail, passion, and creativity, and have excellent memories) they often find it difficult to find and retain a job, achieve promotion and career development, and are prone to being bullied and harassed at work.

Employers should be aware that a neurodiverse employee is likely to be regarded as “disabled” under the Equality Act 2010, and therefore protected against unlawful discrimination, harassment, and/or victimisation on the basis of their condition.

The law also places an onus on employers to proactively explore and implement reasonable adjustments for that individual where their condition puts them at a substantial disadvantage at work.

Employment Tribunal statistics reveal a significant upward trend in claims against employers from neurodivergent employees due to the failure to comply with applicable legal obligations.

Prudent employers will therefore adopt inclusive workplace policies and consider reasonable adjustments in every case of neurodivergence to not only demonstrate commitment to having a diverse, inclusive, and supported workforce, but also to minimise the risk of legal claims if a protected employee`s legal rights are infringed.

Employers should bear in mind that those who are neurodivergent can experience issues even at the recruitment stage and consider making appropriate adjustments. For example, keeping the wording and structure of advertisements simple, giving advance notice of any exercises an applicant may need to complete as part of the interview process, and adjusting tests and the physical environment in which interviews take place to make them accessible, and allow breaks where appropriate.

When employed, employers should encourage open communication with employees that may feel they are neurodivergent and are struggling in work as a result, and actively listen to any concerns that are raised. Internal policies should encourage employees to disclose to their line manager or HR if they are experiencing issues at work because of any such condition and direct them to appropriate internal resources and any designated people within the business for support. Employers should be mindful of the language used in policies and avoid any terms that may be viewed as disparaging and/or not suitable in the context of equality, diversity, and inclusion.

In order to effectively deal with these issues, employers should provide line-managers with adequate training on difficulties neurodivergent employees may face at work and how to identify and best support neurodiversity.

If you need any assistance in addressing the above issues in your business then give us a call on 0330 0881857. We are more than happy to help.  Please also check out our website www.optimaloutsourcing.co.uk/hr/project-support/ for more information on how we can support your business.

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5 Key Steps To Improving Your Own Mental Health and Wellbeing

The working week seems to get busier and busier; deadlines are whooshing past, the kids are preparing to break up from school and you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to fit everything in and keep everyone happy.  The first thing we always give up is that bit of time we have to ourselves.

But to be effective, to be productive and more importantly, to be healthy, it’s important to take time for your own wellbeing.  Evidence suggests there are 5 key steps to improving your mental health and wellbeing.

  1. Connect with other people

Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can:

  • help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth.
  • give you an opportunity to share positive experiences.
  • provide emotional support and allow you to support others.

There are lots of things you could try to help build stronger and closer relationships:

  • if possible, take time each day to be with your family, for example, try arranging a fixed time to eat dinner together
  • arrange a day out with friends you have not seen for a while
  • try switching off the TV to talk or play a game with your children, friends or family
  • have lunch with a colleague
  • visit a friend or family member who needs support or company
  • volunteer at a local school, hospital or community group. Find out how to volunteer on the GOV.UK website
  • make the most of technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Video-chat apps like Skype and FaceTime are useful, especially if you live far apart
  1. Be physically active

Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. Evidence also shows it can also improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • raising your self-esteem
  • helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them
  • causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood

There are lots of different ways to keep fit and get some exercise

  • find free activities to help you get fit
  • take the dog for a walk
  • if you have a disability or long-term health condition, find out about getting active with a disability
  • start running with a couch to 5k podcasts or a local running group
  • Go for a swim, a cycle or even a dance!
  1. Learn new skills

Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem
  • helping you to build a sense of purpose
  • helping you to connect with others

Even if you feel like you do not have enough time, or you may not need to learn new things, there are lots of different ways to bring learning into your life.

Some of the things you could try include:

  • try learning to cook something new. Find out about healthy eating and cooking tips
  • try taking on a new responsibility at work, such as mentoring a junior staff member or improving your presentation skills
  • work on a DIY project, such as fixing a broken bike, garden gate or something bigger. There are lots of free video tutorials online
  • consider signing up for a course at a local college. You could try learning a new language or a practical skill such as plumbing
  • try new hobbies that challenge you, such as writing a blog, taking up a new sport or
  1. Give to others

Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • creating positive feelings and a sense of reward
  • giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth
  • helping you connect with other people

It could be small acts of kindness towards other people, or larger ones like volunteering in your local community.

Some examples of the things you could try include:

  • saying thank you to someone for something they have done for you
  • asking friends, family or colleagues how they are and really listening to their answer
  • spending time with friends or relatives who need support or company
  • offering to help someone you know with DIY or a work project
  • volunteering in your community, such as helping at a school, hospital or care home
  1. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.

Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges. Read more about mindfulness, including steps you can take to be more mindful in your everyday life.

The 5 ways to wellbeing were researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation.

If you would like to undertake a Mental Health Training Qualification, we are offering our readers 25% off the Supervising First Aid for Mental Health workshop which is delivered by our specliast providers Unmasked Mental Health. To book a place on the workshop click here NQF L3 MH Training and insert code OPTHR when you check out.

Why your school needs to sign the staff wellbeing charter

Last year, the UK government published its staff wellbeing charter for the education sector to combat increasing stress.

A tool for state education providers, the charter provides clear guidance on ways to help raise awareness around mental health issues and promote wellbeing among full-time and part-time staff.

The charter is a collective effort, the brainchild of multiple education sector specialists including several UK schools and colleges, and unions NASUWT, NEU, ASCL, NAHT, Voice Community and Unison. Leading mental health organisation MIND also contributed to its design and development.

First published in May 2021, with updates released in November of the same year, all state schools in the UK can sign up with no deadline by which to do so. While entirely voluntary, schools are encouraged to participate – first, to show their commitment to their staff and also, to demonstrate publicly they are supporting initiatives relating to mental health, something parents and education bodies such as Ofsted are keen to see.

Read more about the staff wellbeing charter at the UK government webpage.

Ongoing challenges for staff wellbeing in education

The charter is timely, with mental health issues reportedly rising across society as a whole – and indeed, within education.

For a long time, staff in the sector have talked about the negative impact low morale has on their mental health. Mixed reasons such as poor pay and working conditions and increasing expectations beyond the classroom make it difficult to retain or attract people to the profession. And all of this before Covid emerged, bringing added challenges through social distancing and the constant switching to and from class-based and online learning.

Benefits of the staff wellbeing charter

The charter provides multiple benefits to the staff body and your entire school.

Immediately, your staff will feel supported, resulting in greater performance. In turn, this lifts the morale across your facility and leads to improved staff productivity from the ground up. With a happier workforce, you’ll have fewer issues to face on a day-to-day basis and less staff taking time away from work due to stress-related illness. You are also more likely to retain staff since they can see clearly how their wellbeing is your priority.

Your commitment as a school

By signing the charter, your school sends an immediate message to staff that you care. Of course, a set of actions needs to follow to show you fully support staff wellbeing and are not simply paying lip service to the charter. There are several ways you can do so:

  • Educate staff about the tools available and how to access them; and make sure departmental managers are aware of these supporting tools
  • Promote flexible working wherever you can
  • Implement process efficiency across the school to drive down unnecessary tasks
  • Have open conversations about out-of-hours working and ways to minimise it
  • Demonstrate how you are giving mental health equal footing to physical health
  • Provide a forum for staff to feedback regularly about wellbeing and feelings of stress

Will the wellbeing charter cause more work for your school?

In short, no. Both the DfE and Ofsted are committed to helping schools integrate the charter with minimal effort through a number of initiatives, including:

  • Reducing unnecessary workload – a common factor among teachers dealing with stress
  • Embedding mental health into CPD and teacher training to raise awareness
  • Improving the mental health and wellbeing resources available to schools

Further, Ofsted has agreed to consider staff wellbeing when assessing a school and has clarified that they require no extra documentation as part of their inspection.

How to sign up to the wellbeing charter

There is no mandate to join the charter, and sign up is voluntary. However, joining the wellbeing charter means you can expect more positive outcomes for everyone.

When you are ready to sign up, email wellbeing.charter@education.gov.uk  with the following information:

  • Your school or college Unique Reference Number (URN)
  • Establishment name and postcode

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

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Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

On March 22, the UK reflected on a year living with the coronavirus.

Back in 2020, as the virus spread rapidly across Europe and the UK Government announced our first national lockdown, it’s unlikely any of us thought we would continue to undergo the strict regime that followed. The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating with individuals and families having to cope with death, long-term illness caused by the virus and temporary or permanent work losses. It’s not surprising to learn how the figures for people suffering from mental health issues during this time have dramatically increased.

When we were first asked a year ago to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’, including working from home wherever possible, many people were thankful for the respite from the daily grind of prepping for work, the hectic morning regime, strict time-keeping and a lengthy and costly commute to the office. Virtual meetings soon replaced physical ones in the diary and everyone learned to live with having to perform their role remotely. Now, while some seemingly took to this new life like a duck to water, for others it has been nothing shy of a slog from day one. And for all who did kick things off last March feeling OK, how are these individuals feeling a year later and how are you managing mental health in the workplace?

A recent survey from the Office for National Statistics found the number of adults feeling anxious or depressed has doubled since February 2020, before the pandemic began. It’s an astonishing figure and certainly, an issue the government, health bodies and UK businesses must tackle head-on to provide the support much of the adult population currently needs. Perhaps even more worrying is that this figure is likely much higher than reported, with many suffering in silence either because they don’t understand in full what the term mental health represents or they assume it applies to others and not themselves. After all, their feelings might be a little different to usual but they’re nothing to be concerned about or worth mentioning to anyone else.

Employers and HR specialists play a crucial role in supporting their teams through all manner of circumstances, especially so when mental health and wellbeing come into focus. Here are a few pointers

Raising Mental Health awareness

Not everyone understands what we mean by mental health, or if they do, think it applies to others and not them because they feel OK or, what they consider to be ‘normal’. By raising awareness of the topic, you’re at the very least making a once-over taboo subject much easier for people within your workplace to discuss openly, allowing them to understand in full what is meant by the term and encouraging them to consider their feelings as well as those of their colleagues. While an individual is feeling OK, they could have noticed a difference in the behaviour of a colleague, and knowing how to recognise the signs of anxiety or depression allows others to help.

Gain advice and support from experts

If you have limited time or in-house resources to upskill your staff on mental health, an external provider can help you. There are lots of organisations that offer training on mental health either to managers or your entire workforce. Here at Optimal we provide well-being reviews for which helps employers to gain a better understanding of how their employees are feeling and by providing it through a third party organisation like ourselves, it often enables employees to say much more than they maybe would if it was being undertaken by an internal team.  Organisations such as Unmasked Mental Health & Well-Being Ltd provides excellent face-to-face or virtual training to organisations across the UK and their charitable organisation Unmasked Mental Health has a fantastic, easily accessible and affordable counselling support service amongst other things, for individuals suffering from mental health issues.

Check-in frequently with your team

Unless you’re working in one of the emergency services, or a sector which has become busier than ever during the pandemic – food manufacturing, pharma, logistics, care, education – it’s likely your staff has spent much if not all of the past twelve months working from home. While some will have revelled in the experience, many have found it tough to manage without their peers on tap each day for support. As a people manager, it is up to you to ensure your workforce has lots of opportunities to check-in and chat – as a group, as well as individually – to ask how they’re going and offer your support., if you do find an individual is struggling to cope, make provision for them to attend work physically if they can.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)…. does this affect you?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during winter, although a few people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Social problems, irritability, not wanting to see people
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
  • Anxiety, inability to cope

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities. You can read more about the symptoms of SAD.

When to see your GP

You should consider seeing your GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope. Your GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of autumn and winter. Our bodies are tuned in to the daylight hours in order to maintain our circadian rhythms. These rhythms regulate many important bodily functions and without the correct daylight signals at the correct time this can have significant affects on your wellbeing. Circadian Rhythms help to regulate and control; food digestion, appetite for food, energy levels, sleep duration and quality, and also our mood. Circadian Rhythms are effectively your body’s internal clock but in modern society we spend a lot of time indoors and our bodies are therefore missing out on these signals.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • Production of melatonin– melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. It is thought the body may produce melatonin in higher than normal levels in people with SAD.
  • Production of serotonin– serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Treatment for SAD

There are different treatments available that your GP will be able to discuss with you.

Some options include Light Therapy, Counselling and psychodynamic psychotherapy, CBT and medication.

Things you can try yourself

There are a number of simple things you can try that may help improve your symptoms, including:

  • try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
  • make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible
  • sit near windows when you’re indoors
  • take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight – read more about exercise for depression
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • take steps to manage stress

It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD, so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.

If you are a manager and would like to discuss ways of maintaining employee wellbeing all year round then get in touch  by emailing enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk or call us on 01422 897152 and we would be happy to discuss.

How to protect our Mental Health this festive period

Sometimes, we think of wellbeing in terms of what we have: our income, our home or car, or our job. But evidence shows that what we do and the way we think have the biggest impact on mental wellbeing. It’s the time of the year where people can start to feel unwell both physically and mentally, so I wanted to share a few tips of what I think helps.


The food we eat plays a big part in how we feel both physically and mentally. It’s the time of year we start to indulge more, and we can forget the impact this can have. I’m not going to ask you to stop indulging but I am going to suggest you make sure you are still eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg to keep topped up with all those vital vitamins and minerals.


Being active is great for your physical health and fitness. But evidence shows that it can also improve your mental wellbeing. Many people think that the mind and body are separate. But what you do with your body can have a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing. Most people think exercise requires a gym or specialist equipment, but it doesn’t always need to. There are now lots of videos and tutorials you can watch and participate in from the comfort of your own home. Any physical activity even walking can be beneficial but why not try something that is fun and enjoyable for you. You could play a sport, get your dancing shoes on or go on a bike ride.


Christmas can put a strain on finances but it’s important to remember what the season is all about and not focus so much on material things. Could you make homemade gifts rather than buy from a store, I’m sure your loved ones would appreciate the effort and the thought that goes into it. Could the adults agree to just focus on the children this year and not buy gifts for each other, or maybe a Secret Santa pool would be a good option rather than all buying gifts for everyone.


When it comes to wellbeing, other people matter. Evidence shows that good relationships – with family, friends and the wider community are important for mental wellbeing. The Festive period is a great time to re connect and meet up with your loved ones. Why not invite an old friend for a coffee and a catch up or go for a walk in the beautiful Autumn scenery?

Remember that you do not need to spend time with people who make you feel unhappy. If there are any toxic people in your life it might be worth reviewing this and seeing if you need to distance yourself from them.

Give to others

Most people would agree that giving to others is good in itself. But it can also improve your mental wellbeing. This doesn’t just mean giving financially, small acts of kindness towards other people, can give you a sense of purpose and make you feel happier and more satisfied about life.

Helping and supporting other people, and working with others towards a shared goal, is good for our mental wellbeing. You could volunteer in your local community, offer to cook for a friend, or why not group this with exercise and offer to walk a friend’s dog if you know they have a busy schedule or are feeling under the weather.

If you would like to discuss wellbeing in your organisation please contact Optimal PBS’s Learning and Development Consultant and MHFA England Instructor, Kim Fidler, on 07487 512 928 or kim@optimal-hr.co.uk