4th February 2016 at 2:59pm
Mental health problems affect one in four people every year, yet all too often they’re afraid to talk about their experiences because they’re concerned about how it might impact their job or relationships.
Mental health can be hard to talk about
Given the numbers, it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve talked to many people with close friends and loved ones who have struggled with mental health issues. And that’s when you realise that everyone can struggle to talk about mental health – at least at first.
When one of my best friends had a mental health issue when I was 18 or 19 I didn’t have a clue what to say or do for the best. I felt pretty helpless and, if I’m honest, I found the experience pretty frightening.
With a physical condition you can usually see what’s wrong and compensate accordingly, but when you don’t fully understand the range of mental health conditions, and they vary widely from person to person, it’s hard to know what to do or say.
We worry we will say the wrong thing
In my case, it wasn’t just fear of damaging the relationship that made me hesitate to say anything. It was fear of not saying the right thing, and that by saying the wrong thing I would somehow make things worse.
The important thing I’ve learned since then is to try and help someone feel that a conversation is welcome and to ask how they are. See Me Scotland is running a campaign called #thepowerofokay. A simple ’Are you OK?’ and being prepared to take time to listen can make all the difference.
I’m sure all of us would want to know that our loved ones thought they could speak up early if they felt they were suffering, and that their employer would be supportive.
And even if it wasn’t just the right thing to do, there are many other good reasons why it makes sense for a workplace to create an open culture and an environment where it’s OK to speak up.
For example, it can support the creation of an inclusive workplace. If everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and talk openly it can support diversity, help to identify better ways of doing things, and enable employees to be more engaged and productive.
It’s good to talk
I strongly believe businesses need to create a culture where it’s good to talk, where departments feel able to take time out, managers and colleagues feel able to ask “are you OK?” and every employee feels able to answer that question honestly and without fear of what might come next.
It’s great to see that one of Standard Life’s offices has introduced the Swedish social institution of “FIKA” to encourage colleagues to take time out and have a coffee together, get to know one another better and share thoughts or concerns. Who knows, popping along to a FIKA could really help someone who has found it difficult to talk about something so far.
While there’s still some way to go, things do seem to be improving when it comes to talking about mental health. I believe there’s less stigma around than in the past and there’s more advice out there now too. Creating an open culture in the workplace can really help. We’re proud to support Time to Talk Day.
If it helps even one person feel it’s OK to speak up, then it’s worthwhile.
The information in this blog or any response to comments should not be regarded as financial advice and is correct as of February 2016.