According to a recent survey we conducted at Westfield Health, nearly 40% of people find it hard to talk to or open up to anyone about their mental health.
This statistic doesn’t surprise me. But, like the third of employees who responded to our survey, I’ve experienced being unsure about who to talk to or where to find help or support regarding mental health issues.
This needs to change and as a result I am supporting Time to Talk Day, part of the Time to Change campaign, which aims to tackle the culture of silence around mental health by getting the nation talking.
Mental resilience is something I feel I can now talk about on a personal level, but I didn’t always have the understanding or education around the issue. At the CIPD Conference at the end of 2015, I told the story of a traumatic time my family went through. At the start of 2014 my eldest daughter, who was 3 years at the time had a rare cancer type tumour removed, then at the end of 2014 my youngest daughter was born three months early and spent her first few months in hospital in intensive care. The situation was extremely tough for our whole family, but particularly for my wife who suffered post-traumatic stress. The effect it had on us individually, as a couple and our surrounding family was very hard, and on many occasions we felt isolated; unsure of how to tackle the problem, or who we could talk to.
At the time I was working for a business which planned to relocate my family and I overseas. However, as there was a lot going on with my family, I decided to leave my employer and remain in the UK. This gave me the opportunity to support my family fully and set up a caring network to ensure my wife got back to being fit and healthy as she is today. We eventually found the help we needed to work through this difficult time, but it was by no means a quick fix.
Through this experience I also saw firsthand how personal issues can impact a business. The fact that I didn’t stay with my old company was a disruption to that businesses strategic plans. This then raises the question as to whether employers across the country are doing enough to support employees in this way. Generally, in many organisations, the answer is no.
Roll forward several months and I find myself in a role at Westfield Health where I can make a real difference to my colleagues, and use the benefit of my experience to promote the importance of support networks to help people struggling with situations that they feel unable to control.
Everything we go through in our personal lives will always have an emotional impact as well as a business impact, whether we suffer one-off, traumatic events such as bereavement, or face ongoing worries that cause stress over time such as caring for elderly relatives or financial worries.
I want to be open and honest about my experiences and I hope by talking, it will encourage others to do the same in their workplace.
Importantly, employers need to do more to make it easy for staff to talk openly about these issues, and provide good levels of guidance and support. Managers should be trained to look out for common mental illness symptoms, encourage employees to talk openly about mental health, and signpost people to experts and clinicians for support when needed.
The experience taught me a lot about the stigma attached to mental health in the UK workplace – the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture where we feel admitting mental health problems shows some kind of weakness. It is also essential we tackle this culture - just as we would talk about a physical ailment, it should be acceptable to talk about mental health problems without the worry of facing stigma and discrimination as a result.
Time to Talk Day is an important day. It highlights the need to talk about mental health and end the misconceptions surrounding it, but, I know from experience, we should take every day as an opportunity to talk openly.