The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. This year’s theme, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress – both at home and at work.
There has been tremendous progress over recent years in destigmatising mental health issues in the workplace, driven by a greater awareness of the impact they can have on an organisation. It isn’t about lost productivity, but a lost opportunity to increase the wellbeing of the workforce. We’re waking up to the fact that organisations are only as strong as their people.
Organisations such as the City Mental Health Alliance are pushing this agenda further. Founded by City businesses and closely supported by two leading UK mental health organisations, Mental Health First Aid England and Mind, the Alliance’s vision is to help people at all levels in the City of London to talk about mental health, without fear of stigma.
Stigma does still exist. You only need listen to some office ‘banter’ to notice that mental health labels are still used as terms of abuse. This stigma is based on ignorance and fear of the unknown. The best way to tackle it is through open discussion of the issues, to build understanding and break down misconceptions and outmoded prejudices.
There can be a snowball effect when it comes to disclosing experiences of mental ill health. If one person is brave enough to make the first move, others soon join in. This is particularly true when senior executives contribute. The knowledge that mental ill health doesn’t respect status or title, and that we are all equally as vulnerable, is a powerful message that we are all in this together and can and will support each other.
Early intervention is a very important factor in mental wellbeing and can play a major role in determining the length and severity of someone’s illness. Knowing they are not alone, that others have been through similar situations and survived, can ease the pressure on someone who believes they have to tough it out and suffer in silence.
Shared experiences also helps create a culture of mental wellbeing. It raises the profile of measures that can prevent or mitigate circumstances that contribute to mental ill health in the workplace and offers access to services and other support networks that can help. Wellbeing initiatives that address the root causes of work-related mental ill health are vital to the creation of mentally healthy workplaces. But first we need to crack the culture of silence that masks the scale of the problem.
We all have a role in making our workplace a healthy environment and today Mental Health First Aid England is calling on everyone to ‘Take 10 Together’ and have a meaningful 10 minute conversation with someone about their mental health. Why don’t you start with a colleague?
Alexander Clelland, Director