Wil Wheaton starred in Star Trek, has appeared regularly in The Big Bang Theory and is now a successful writer and blogger. He is also an unashamed sufferer of chronic depression and anxiety.
Tim Ferriss hosts Apple’s number-one podcast, has written several New York Times bestsellers and is worth more than $100 million from successful angel investing. He survived suicidal depression while studying at Princeton.
Anthony Bourdain enjoyed critical acclaim and financial success as a chef, wrote numerous successful books and starred in a host of television shows. He took his own life in June 2018.
Mental health does not discriminate. Depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies are not confined to people going through tough times in their business or personal lives. Even the successful, the rich, and the famous encounter inner demons.
But neither are mental health problems the preserve of the rich and famous. In December 2018, a study by NHS Digital reported on the BBC found that one in six people have a mental health problem. The World Health Organisation puts the figure at closer to one in four.
There’s no doubt that mental health is moving closer to the forefront of discourse in British society. Pressure is building on the government to spend more in this area. Yet there are still very few companies offering managers training on how to spot mental health problems and support their staff.
I think it’s important to recognise three things: mental health problems are more prevalent than we think; people are fantastically adept at masking them; and they can have a big impact on the company in addition to the individual concerned. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD):
- 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
- 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
- 50% are potentially less patient with customers.
As an employer at a growing company, I’m increasingly mindful of the need to give my team the resources they need to do their best work for our clients. So, I was delighted when three members of our Scotland team asked me if they could develop a mental health policy for us. I’m proud to support this initiative for the Copylab family.
The question is, what are we doing?
First, we are organising training for all managers over the summer. We will encourage all of them to become aware of the impact of mental health problems on an individual and the company, how to spot problems, and how to approach people sensitively.
It’s not just a manager’s duty, though. All of us have to look out for one another. If someone in our team is going through a stressful life event, like a bereavement, we have a moral responsibility to check in with them. Ask them how they are. Ask them again!
Second, we are committed to publicising the potential avenues of support for anyone who is experiencing problems, both inside and outside the company. Just as is the case for physical health, prevention trumps cure. So, as well as these commitments, we are taking further steps to ensure a positive working environment for everyone.
That means ensuring everyone knows what’s expected of them in their role; regular face-to-face catch-ups; more regular internal communication; being clear about our company’s vision, purpose and strategy; seeking more opinions from the team; encouraging autonomy and mastery in their roles; and monitoring working hours. We’ve always championed ultra-flexible working and a decent work-life balance, and we bring in additional resources before someone gets overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, we’re encouraging the team to look after themselves. Self-care is important. We don’t want to tell people how to spend their free time. But there’s strong evidence that spending time outside in nature, regular exercise and meditation are all proven to reduce stress.
As I write these last few words, I’ve noticed the BBC running a series of ads and articles for celebrities talking about their mental health problems. Notable among these for me is the comedian Jason Manford. He sums it up beautifully: “just because you’re struggling, doesn’t mean you’re failing,” and “next time you’re struggling, maybe say it to someone you love.”
Or, indeed, tell someone you care about and who cares about you. We want everyone to know that if they have a problem, they can tell us and they will get a sympathetic hearing. To me, that’s the right path towards mental health and happiness, and shows that we’re a supportive company.