Are we dealing with Mental Health issues or are we looking the other way?
Last week, actor Sheridan Smith dropped out of the West End production of “Funny Girl”, citing stress and exhaustion. I noticed two things about the subsequent press coverage. First, the lack of sympathy for Smith, and secondly, that the words stress and exhaustion were always printed in double quotation marks, in a manner I feel sure “broken leg” never would be. Regardless of Smith’s actual issues (we can’t discount media Schadenfreude here), the manner in which the actor’s condition was reported is representative of how we still deal with mental health issues in the work place.
We don’t quite know what mental health issues are and perhaps our first instinct when dealing with a condition we can’t see is to dismiss it. What precisely IS stress? When does mental health become mental ILL health? What other conditions does this term include? Can it be cured and when is our staff member coming back to work? More worryingly, is there a perception that being ‘signed off with stress’ is used as a tactic in IR wrangles? How responsible are we, as employers, for our employees’ mental health?
A lot has been done by the NHS and Public Health Britain, alongside charities and institutions focussing specifically on mental health like MIND, the Mental Health Foundation and Mental Health First Aid, to dispel the confusion and the resulting stigma attached to mental health issues. Research conducted by ‘Time to Change’ reveals that up to 90% of people with mental health issues experience some form of stigma, whether from friends and family, at work, in education or during treatment. In 2013, the NHS launched the ‘Parity of Esteem’ campaign, to promote parity of physical and mental health. Their statistics state that we are far more likely to seek medical assistance for physical ailments than for mental issues and that we will not even tell the people closest to us that we are struggling with a mental health issue for over a year after we first experience symptoms. And this is despite the fact that a quarter of us in the UK will experience a mental health issue every year.
The Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 began on Monday 16 May and will wrap up tomorrow. The theme this year is relationships because the health of our personal and workplace relationships often holds a mirror up to our own mental health. Our workplace relationships are particularly important as two thirds of people who experience mental health issues believe that workplace issues - long hours, unrealistic workloads or bad management - either caused or exacerbated their condition. At TCM, our focus is on building, cementing and, most often, repairing those workplace relationships. These relationships can make the difference between our feeling wholly alone, alienated and overwhelmed in the work place or feeling like we have someone to turn to if we feel as if we cannot cope.
Campaigns like this will hopefully demystify the topic and remove the stigma around mental health issues. So in the future, actors and employees alike can be treated for conditions like stress and exhaustion and not “stress” and “exhaustion”.
Listen to our webinar here to find out more on mental health issues and the connection with mediation. https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4387158421994622209
A Guide to UK-based Free Mental Health Helplines by Cassiobury Court.