Improving awareness of mental health issues got royal backing last month and it was good to see the Duchess of Cambridge showing so much passion for the subject. She was highlighting mental health issues in children and commenting that it is a taboo subject, even among the young.
This stigma around mental health is one that is still hard to shake off. I know it’s become a well-worn comment, but if someone can’t make it into work because they have a broken leg, there isn’t really an issue. If someone can’t come in because they’re experiencing a problem with their mind, many of us don’t know how to react or handle the situation. That’s despite estimates that one in four people will suffer a mental health problem in any given year. I doubt the same stats apply to broken legs.
I’m pleased to say that I have seen improvements in recent years with mental health becoming more of a mainstream topic of discussion and not something simply swept under the carpet.
But we need to get better at being open about mental health issues, especially in the workplace. I have been encouraged to see more and more businesses putting provisions in place to support their staff. Only last month, I was at an internal conference where senior managers within Aviva were given information about mindfulness – a stress reducing technique. Taking this kind of top down approach within a workplace can be very effective, as managers go back to their teams to share what they have learnt. Culture in a workplace is usually set from above so anything that demonstrates senior leaders’ involvement in issues like mental health should have a positive impact on employees at all levels.
But it shouldn’t just end at passing on techniques to cope with stress. There is now so much that businesses can do to help employees manage their mental health. Equipping line managers to recognise employees at risk and to provide necessary support is essential. That said, prevention of workplace stress lies in creating a culture of engagement, flexible working, reward and team morale. The design of a workplace and the roles within it are the foundation of this. Employee Assistance Programmes, which staff can access independently via third party services, are now widely available – although awareness of these services probably needs to be improved. All too often they are tucked away on a company intranet with some staff unaware of what is on offer. Overall, there needs to be an improvement in our attitude to discuss mental health, just like we would the aforementioned broken leg.
That’s why I was so impressed to see the Duchess of Cambridge get involved. Mental health problems, such as depression and stress, are often seen as illnesses that exclusively effect adults and possibly teenagers. But children of all ages, for a variety of reasons, can suffer from mental illness, as well. Not only is it positive news that these youngsters have a new champion in the Duchess which could lead to them getting increased support, but it means that by being encouraged to talk about mental illness when they are young, their generation will grow up with a much more open attitude.