Mental Health Awareness Week: #KeepTalking

A healthy conversation

Mental Health Awareness Week: #KeepTalking

This week (18th – 24th May) is the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week .  In line with this, we will be publishing a series of blogs, and guest blogs, to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and help firms ensure that the mental wellbeing of staff remains at the top of their agenda.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core – economies are failing, and social distancing has become the norm.  It is not surprising that anxiety levels amongst the population have rocketed.  VitaMinds, a mental health service provided by the Vita Health Group, released new research last week that suggests that more than half of the UK (63%) are feeling anxious about coronavirus.  However, one in five people are reticent to speak to a doctor about it, and only 2% of those surveyed intended to contact their GP for help in the near future.  The world may have come a long way in recent years to destigmatise mental health problems, but we still have a long way to go.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not shy away from my mental health issues.  I believe strongly that we need to be open and keep the lines of communication flowing.  When I was first diagnosed, twelve years ago, with manic depression/ non-psychotic bipolar I felt a huge sense of relief – finally there was a REASON why I felt the way I did – I wasn’t in fact ‘losing my mind’ – I could be helped.  However, for my parents it was a different story.  The stigma associated with it was too hard to bear.  They chose to not believe it (even though they heard it from doctors and psychologists themselves) and advised me to not talk about it to anyone. It would ruin my job prospects, I would lose friends, I would not be believed etc…  I do not blame them in any way.  I honestly have the most supportive family.  Their generation was taught to be ashamed of such things.  It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when one of the terrestrial channels did a series of documentaries with Alistair Campbell, Stephen Fry, and others, about their mental health problems that finally they began to accept it.  This demonstrates the need to keep talking and communicate to continue to destigmatise it.

According to Mind, the mental health charity, one in four people in the UK now experience a mental health problem each year, and one in six people in England experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.  It is prevalent in our society and not always easy to spot. 

Over the past few weeks, under lockdown and whilst employees have been asked to work from home, we have seen many stories of the good that firms have been doing to keep up staff morale and ensure the mental wellbeing of their workforce.  In The Lawyer’s Coronavirus Survey, questions about what firms had introduced to support employees’ mental health during the pandemic received a mixed response.  The good news, however, was that firms seemed to have already put systems in place.  From Eversheds Sutherland’s Ministry of Support to Hogan Lovells’ Smile for the Day email chain, law firms seem to be doing their bit.  Only time will tell whether these initiatives continue as we return to work under our ‘new normal’.

Firms must remember that anxiety is going to be within their workforce for the foreseeable.  There are many triggers for mental illness which will no doubt be exacerbated by the lockdown and coronavirus. These may include illness itself, bereavement, financial and job security, caring responsibilities, and domestic issues that have been heightened over recent weeks to name but a few. If someone is struggling with one or two of these triggers, it may heighten stress and push them into mental illness.

Communication is going to be key to flushing out anxiety in the workplace.  Firm bosses and managers will need to keep their doors open and their ears to the ground to spot the signs.  All the good work and initiatives that have been put in place under lockdown cannot turn out to simply be lip service.  The industry deserves better and has been given a fantastic opportunity to open its eyes to the systematic issues of mental health.  Let us not let it go to waste.  #KeepTalking