July 19, 2018
Business

Smash the stigma around MENtal health

Lets be honest, mental health is still taboo in corporate environments, particularly at the top.

From the investment banker struggling with depression to the lawyer battling an eating disorder, countless professionals live in fear of being “outed” at work. I know all too well – I was one of them.

The logic goes something like this: mental illness is a risk, risk is bad for business, so therefore I need to hide my illness. Its like driving with a flat tire – at speed which means you will eventually lose control and cause structural damage.

When Lloyds Bank chief executive Antonio Horta Osorio took stress leave in 2011, it made national news.

His public bravery for admitting that he needed help was widely admired. Yet little progress has been made since.

Those suffering are still having to hide behind socially acceptable terms like exhaustion, when in reality 10 per cent of those you work with take antidepressants.

I have worked in various senior roles at corporates, but it took me until I co-founded my own healthtech company to feel comfortable enough to admit I take antidepressants to manage my diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder.

For whatever reason, the startup world feels more accepting of mental health issues. The problem is, most people dont work in startups.

When it comes to men in particular, suicide is the single biggest cause of death for those under 45 in the UK.

Men have a tendency to sweep any health issues under the carpet, conforming to traditional male gender norms, but its crucial this doesnt prevent them getting the necessary help.

So what can be done?

Early intervention

For employers, training staff and raising awareness is a key part of the process. Line managers who are equipped to identify pressure points and signs of distress in colleagues can step in to ensure that the individuals in question dont go overlooked.

Likewise, directly addressing any stigma around health issues helps ensure its not reduced to gossip.

Find someone to talk to

Job commitments can make it feel like there is no time to do anything else. Weve all put off GP appointments for months because we cant quite find the time.

Being honest with yourself early on and leaning on the available support will prevent it escalating.

You dont initially have to go down the official HR route – a work confidante can make a huge difference and help nudge you towards a more structured support network.

Likewise, dont underestimate your employer – there is now greater understanding of mental health and corporations are increasingly bringing it into their people management plans.

The recovery route thats best for you

I take a medication called Venlafaxine, and probably will do for the rest of my life. There are side effects yes, but its made a huge difference to my anxiety, and its a trade-off Im comfortable with. But one size doesnt fit all, and medication is only one tool.

Talk therapy, sleep, exercise and diet all play a role and you will need to try (and fail) a range of options before finding the right solution for you.

In the corporate world, too many of us still feel unsafe when talking about mental health.

This has to change. Not just because its the right thing to do, but because its endemic and, frankly, bad for business. More senior executives should share their experience, and demonstrate that anxiety and depression are no more a barrier to success than asthma or diabetes.

Lets smash the stigma.

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