16 people end their lives every day
Last week, I attended ‘Mental Health In The Workplace’, an event at General Assembly London as part of Mental Health Awareness Week focused around the role businesses have in addressing mental health and the initiatives they are introducing to better support their employees.
What struck me was the alarming statistics in the UK:
65% of Britons report experiecing a mental health problem; one in six people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem; and approximately one person every two hours takes their own life.
This isn’t something just affecting a few, it’s impacting everyone.
So it was heartening to hear of the initiatives businesses in London are putting into place to change the perception around mental health and encourage an open environment for staff to disclose their struggles and receive support. Organisations like Sanctus are working with businesses to change the language and perception around mental health — rather speaking of mental fitness and providing 121 coaching by accreddited professionals in the workplace available to all staff to book into and discuss anything that could be a challenge in the workplace. Accenture have introduced a mental health ally programme which provides a space for employees to come togther to share their struggles and training on how to identify mental health issues and champion the positive impact of taking notice of your mental health. Google have various iniatives in place to encourage staff to peer support one another where needed. And the Mental Health Foundation (amongst other organisations) are working incredibly hard to keep this high on the agenda for business and government.
However, for every one business that is engaging with this important issue, there’s at least one that isn’t — and the speakers at GA confirmed the nervous and reluctant response they have had from some organisations they have spoken with. Therefore leaving a whole swathe of the population who don’t have access to any, or very little support within their workplace only available to those who ‘have a problem’.
What was really interesting to me then, was hearing Sanctus’ perspective on mental health: that it is for everyone, that we all have mental health, or mental fitness as they tend to refer to it as, that actually we should view our mental health in the same way we view our physical health — as something that needs attention, care and respect at every part of our life, not just when we experience and injury or illness. And that perhaps this is where we’ve been going wrong. We see mental health treatment or support as something for only those who ‘have a problem’ and yet it’s simply not the case. Understanding you emotional needs and fundamental psychological makeup benefits everyone.
It’s my view that previously when we’ve talked about challenging the stigma of mental health, it tends to be done from the perspective of: “we mustn’t stigmatise those who experience mental health problems, but me over here, yes I’m just fine, that doesn’t apply to me.” When actually it 100% does.
So what can we do, over and above trying to view mental fitness the same way we view our physical fitness? It’s clear this isn’t an issue for businesses to solve by themselves. I think tackling the mental health crisis we are suffering in the UK requires a far more holistic apporach from government, education providers, businesses and indivduals themselves in order to have the impact it needs to have on everyone.
We need to start looking at prevention as well as treatment. We need better emotional intelligence education in schools for everyone from the get-go. Whether you refer ot it as mental fitness or emotional intelligence, we need to be placing as much emphasis on fundamentally understanding and managing our emotional needs, as well as the needs of others and how they might differ as we do on academic attainment. After all, this ultimately shapes absolutely everything we do, speak, feel and believe in life. And then we need to look at how this integrates with other activities and needs in our lives, from exercise, nutrition, alcohol etc, and how to spot the signs that soemone may be struggling.
Then this learning needs to be continued throughout higher education and universities. You can’t stop learning about and developing emotional intelligence and so we shouldn’t stop talking about and exploring it as we grow through fundamental life stages.
Again, this exends to businesses — providing learning opportunities, open and safe spaces for discussing these issues and aligning our emotional needs along with the practical elements we need to thrive in the workplace.
Access to treatment
We also need better access to services and treatment from our healthcare providers. I have no doubt there are plenty of people who have had a positive experience of the NHS but from my personal experience, I believe the current NHS provsion is beyond inadequate: the waiting times are too long; the treatment itself is too short, surface level and one-size-fits-all; it feels like you’re being treated as though you ‘have a problem’; and the follow up is non-existant. The NHS could take a lot from simply shifting their own perspective around how to speak about and promote mental health as something for everyone, and not just for those who have been referred as having ‘a problem’ and need ‘fixing’. And from integrating a more holistic programme of mental fitness treatment to include specific programmes on exercise, mediatiton, journalling as well therapy or medication.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think we all have a personal responsibility to commit to continuously working on our self-awareness and better understanding our emotional needs and the needs of others in order to shift away from the view that mental health is ‘not for me’ and only exists when we have a problem, and to a more holistic and inclusive view that sees us embrace strengthening our emotional intelligence and wellbeing as a fundamental part of our daily lives.