This Is Me Scotland: 3 steps to change workplace attitudes on mental health

In Mental Health Awareness Week, Alan Thornburrow, Business in the Community's Scotland Director, discusses the key messages at a parliamentary reception focusing on eliminating the subject's stigma
 
 
Last Wednesday I was proud to join inspiring speakers and about 200 individuals to promote #ThisIsMeScotland at a parliamentary reception hosted by Annie Wells MSP.
 
The initiative's purpose is to challenge the stigma on mental health in the workplace. This Is Me Scotland is a collaborative, business-led effort spearheaded by Barclays, PwC, Samaritans, SAMH and BITC Scotland.
 
As this is Mental Health Awareness Week, It is the perfect time to reflect on the evening, and to encourage everyone to take positive actions to promote good mental health.
 
Mental health is just as important as physical health – and it should be just as easy to talk about and cater for at work too. But sadly, it isn’t. Our 2018 Mental Health at Work survey1 found that only 16% of employees felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager. 
 
If that is our current reality, how do we stop the stigma associated with poor mental health in the workplace? How do we get parity for mental and physical health, and most importantly, how do we support our colleagues, organisations, and ourselves, to get and maintain good mental health?
 
Last Wednesday we heard from Prof Rory O’Connor who was dispelling some of the myths on suicide. He said that 20 years ago cancer was the ‘Big C’ that no one wanted to talk about, and now we need to make sure that suicide isn’t the ‘Big S’.  He added: “We all have a part to play in challenging mental health problems and tackling suicide.” I couldn’t agree more. 
 
James Jopling from Samaritans Scotland then spoke about how suicide impacts us at work, and what we can do to spot and support individuals struggling with poor mental health in the workplace.
 
Philippe Guijarro, a partner at PwC and representing This is Me Scotland, encouraged everyone to sign up and join a growing network of employers, access resources and take action to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. 
 
And then, it was my turn. I was joined by Sarah Kibblewhite from PwC and Richard Darroch from Barclays to talk about our own experiences with mental ill health, and what we do to stay well.
 
For me, I know that I need exercise (I run ultramarathons). I also need to talk to my family and share honestly how I’m feeling with colleagues at work. When I was struggling with my mental health at work about a year ago, it was a colleague asking me “How are you doing? You don’t seem yourself”, that helped me to open up, share what was going on and then I was able to take action.
 
Throughout all the speeches and conversations on Wednesday a few key messages really came out strong, and they are the answers to my questions above, on how we challenge stigma and support others – and ourselves – to have good mental health.
 
  1. Talking: The more we talk about something the less scary it is. Talking to family, friends and colleagues about our mental health will reduce the stigma around it. Just as we can tell others when we’ve been off with a cold, we need to get to a place where we can share with equal security when we’ve had poor mental health. And if you see someone who looks like they may be struggling, start the conversation, and ask them “How are you really doing?”.
  2. Training: We don’t all need to be experts, but just like with first aid we all should have some basic training so that when people do share their mental health struggles with us, or if we see someone struggling and want to intervene, we know how to do so. Training, along with good policies and processes, will help to create a safe culture at work where people can talk with confidence and security.
  3. Taking action: Just as with physical health, good mental health requires us to make conscious choices to look after ourselves. For me, I know that if I don’t run regularly, I’m not in a good place mentally. Everyone needs to find out what helps keep them in good mental health. Eating well and getting some form of regular exercise are standard tick boxes – but also taking time for yourself, for a hobby or just having a bit of ‘me’ time, can make a real difference. Whatever it is, take the actions you need to stay mentally healthy, or recover.
 
References
  1. Business in the Community, Mental Health at Work 2018 Summary Report

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