No Health Without Mental Health is the Governments strategy for tackling mental health and was the title for an inspiring conference I went to last week. For details of the six objectives, please visit http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/2011/07/mental-health-strategy/. This is a key topic for you as an employer and your team as one in four adults experience mental illness at some point during their lifetime and one in six experience symptoms at any one time. This makes mental illness the largest single cause of disability in our society at a cost of £105 billion. (February 2011)
The conference aim was to celebrate World Mental Health Day and to highlight issues surrounding mental health in Dorset. I was disappointed by the low number of private sector employers attending, as the speakers were inspirational in their courage and openness to talk about the impact of mental ill health, recovery and what stigma in the workplace meant to them.
Many people spend more time at work than they do with their family and so our behaviours as employers will have a major impact on the factors that can bring the onset of mental ill health. What surprised me was the extent of bullying in the workplace, especially by managers. This is something employers can do something to stop.
The most thought provoking aspect for me was the stigma and the impact that has on our behaviour towards people with mental ill health issues. The examples of media coverage of Frank Bruno’s illness were an eye opener. We will give sympathy to someone who has a broken leg or cancer, but how difficult do we find it to talk to someone returning to work after mental illness? One presentation slide was a collage of people who have had mental ill health and they included Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, James Watt, W. H. Auden, Charles Darwin, Sir Edward Elgar, and many more eminent people. Yet this is not what they are remembered for.
It is not about the title Schizophrenia or Manic Depressive and the person getting lost behind this, it is about seeing the person as a fellow human being with a given diagnosis. How people retuning to work afterwards are handled by a company and the team will have a major impact on their recovery and likelihood of relapse.
Key words for recovery were engagement, empowerment and independence according to Terry Bowyer, who gave a brilliant speech about his experiences. Resilience was another recurring word, which comes from positive parenting. As employers, we can demonstrate the positive parent ego state, if we choose. We can provide hope that we can do our part to reduce the figure of 1 in 4 sufferers, or at least we are not contributing to this shameful figure in the 21st century.
If you would like to do more for you and your team in maintaining mental wellbeing, then contact us about our Mind Your Head series or the Mind Your Head Challenge Conference next year. Ultimately, businesses are run on brain power, so your mind does matter.