I have suffered from mental health problems.
Ten years ago I don’t think I would have opened a column or blog I was writing with that line.
To be honest, maybe not even five years ago.
But the issue, and importance, of mental health awareness has moved on in the last decade to the point where any sense of stigma and shame that I may have, sadly, felt by making such an acknowledgement previously has, largely, gone. And that movement is down to a greater awareness and understanding in society at large – so it is reassuring to see it moving up the agenda for employers, too.
I was fortunate. When I suffered from depression and, a few years later, stress, I was working for a company that enabled me to get speedy access to counselling, as well as take a few weeks off.
I know not every employee out there was as fortunate, and, frustratingly, am sure there are far too many today feeling they could not possibly have a conversation with their employer about their mental health – let alone receive support.
So, following on from interviewing The Happiness Bootcamp founder Aimee Browes for unLTD issue10 and finding out about her mission to tackle Sheffield’s mental health problems, all our If You Ask Me contributors make for very encouraging reading for me personally and professionally.
I was really impressed by Mark Smith after meeting him at a Social Good Sheffield event last year when he told me he was choosing ‘prioritising the importance of mental health and wellbeing’ as the theme for his year of office as Junior Chamber International (JCI) President. And he got off to a very positive start to his presidency this year after arranging ‘Mindful Matters: Step Up Your Mental Health Awareness’, a conference featuring business stakeholders.
Nick Mather is The Healthy Teacher, a supportive coaching service aiming to prevent teacher burn-out, but his advice could equally be applied to any profession:
“You need to put back what you give out. If you don’t, then your tank will empty and when pressure hits, you have nothing left to give.”
We’ve also got some wise words from Simplyou coach and trainer Holly Crosby:
“As a leader, creating an environment where people feel safe enough to talk about what they are experiencing without fear of judgement is key…A clear plan needs to be in place so that when staff report they need support in this area, they are heard, understood and feel supported.”
Just like I was. And it’s worth noting that when I experienced my bouts of poor mental health (I like to refer to them by that term – a ‘bout’, putting them on the same level as you would a physical illness) social media was in its infancy and WhatsApp did not exist. Workers today are constantly contactable, adding to the inability to ‘switch off’.
All of which means Cllr Mazher Iqbal is right to point out that mental health ‘is an issue of increasing importance, to individuals, businesses, healthcare providers and policy makers’ and identify programmes such as Working Win and Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS).
Add to that David Capper from Westfield Health’s top tips and all of these back up what Mark Smith JCI President ends with – and so shall I:
“Mental health in the workplace is an ongoing and constantly evolving discussion. However, if companies are willing to listen to employees and be proactive rather than reactive, we’re on the right track.”