Asking about mental health is not the answer, listening is

listening to mental healthSo, how are you? As the daughter of a depressive father and the sister of a brother who suffers with similar mental health challenges, I have seen first hand how powerfully destructive a negative state of mind can be to the individuals who suffer as well as those around them.

I could never understand why my dad couldn’t lift his strong body from his bed on some days, to my mind he had the perfect life. And that is the point – I didn’t understand because I couldn’t, luckily for me my brain is wired differently and thankfully I don’t suffer mentally in the same way. This was pointed out to me by my mad Aunty Sue who kindly told me that the only way I would deal with my dads black moods was to accept that I couldn’t really understand it. She was right and from that moment I probably became more empathetic than I had ever been and I try to remain so.

A couple of years later I met my best friend whose father had killed himself before we met, and I understood without question that this wasn’t an act of cowardice but one of bravery, he truly thought the world would be a better place without him in it (of course he was wrong).

Now what does this have to do with the workplace? Everything, it’s a warning shot for any HR department that thinks a ‘policy’ is going to deal with the dark depths of mental health issues.


Pay attention

Awareness is everything and I welcome with all my heart the the discussions around mental health in the workplace; where it is okay for workers in the most masculine of environments being able to talk about their feelings without being vilified by the common place machismo of the previous generation.

It is important that employees are treated with kindness and respect and the culture makes it comfortable for them to speak to colleagues and bosses about their struggled in the full knowledge that they will be understood and helped.  This is called being human.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Words such as stress, depression and panic attacks are applied to the ups and downs of normal life[/perfectpullquote]

My nervousness stems from the way words such as stress, depression and panic attacks are applied to the ups and downs of normal life. In my opinion these words are used far too freely and their real meaning is being lost.

Feeling over worked or slightly out of your depth in a new situation is a normal and not entirely unhealthy feeling. It is how we make progress and improve. But the important thing here is that something can be done about it.

True anxiety is when the sufferer loses all ability think and function normally, this is an entirely different scenario – a word with a manager, handing over a bit of the workload and perhaps going on a course won’t solve this, only professional intervention will.

Events like the Mad World Summit are vital for businesses to understand this. I was introduced by obolife, a furniture dealership that isn’t for one second suggesting that the right chair will life the spirit but what they are saying is that everything matters. And being kind and paying attention to what is important will reap rewards for everyone.

The agenda at the Mad World Summit is densely pack with the intention of bringing mental health and wellbeing to the top of the business agenda and thank goodness they are succeeding. There were incredible key notes by Ian Stuart the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of HSBC UK Bank Plc, Dame Carol Black DBE, FRCP, FMEDSCI – Expert Adviser on Health and Work to the NHD England and Public Health England and Chair of Ageing Better, as well as the Ruby Wax who has become a key figure in leading discussions around mental health.


The meaning of work 

There was an overwhelming sense that perhaps business is now abandoning the mantra of economist such as  Milton Friedman  in the 70’s who argued that businesses’ sole purpose is to generate profit for shareholders. Business needs to be profitable of course, or they will cease to exist, but not at any cost. Enlightened organisations demonstrably putting their employees at the centre, not only do they need to earn enough money for a decent standard of living but the actual work needs to be meaningful on some level (there is whole other article here) for self-fulfilment.

This year I sat and listened to the incredible stories from people who were open about their personal struggles, to amazing leaders in business who understand fully the importance of cultivating open and honest cultures, where employees are empowered to make the decision that are best for them.

A key mantra of the day was ‘we all have mental health’ and we do, recognising the different shape and sizes that this comes in is critical. There isn’t a quick fix, one size fits all to this issue – so please no  box ticking or ‘well washing’.

The most important lesson everyone can learn is to know the limits of our knowledge and recognise when the experts need to be called in. That just might save lives.

Image by Couleur