Ros King, the marketing communications director at Lloyds Banking Group, said: “You can avoid doing anything for worry that it might come across as negative but in the end it’s important to get people talking about mental health just the way we talk about cancer. To not talk about it would be a real shame because people wouldn’t benefit.” I totally concur and while I am not in the habit of heaping praise on the banking industry, in this instance the advertising campaign deserves recognition for its contribution to the debate.
Many of us have seen the “who am I?” adverts where celebrities, members of the public and bank employees play a version of the sticky-note guessing game to highlight and explore misconceptions regarding living with a non-visible disability and where the voiceover informs us that one in four of the population are affected by mental health issues. I mention this to illustrate just how far we have come in dealing with this matter.
When I was a civil service trade union official, I had cause to deal with many mental health cases which involved long-term sick leave and how it was managed by the personnel department. The catch-all reason given for this absence was inevitably “depression”.
At that time this particular reason for absence was ranked alongside “a sore back” and was regarded by many as a malingerer’s excuse. To be fair not as much was known then as it is today and we are now fully aware that depression can take many forms, all of which deserve to be treated with patience and understanding. So much so that a mountain of material exists which should inform employers of how to approach this issue in the workplace, recognising the symptoms and contributing to a remedy.
All managers of staff should be made aware of how to recognise some of the signs such as, being angry for little or no reason, lethargy, anxiety, lack of concentration, being unable to make straightforward decisions and lack of interest or social involvement to name but a few.
One of the most important aspects is, of course, being able to talk about the subject. To this end, managers are encouraged to approach staff “the sooner the better” as this may lead to a better outcome, to be candid and confident in an effort to normalise the situation and not to make assumptions.
They should also encourage staff to express their feelings by posing simple “open” questions whilst being prepared for periods of silence and to be patient. An individual action plan should be considered as a method of dealing with an individual’s problems in the workplace and staff should be encouraged to approach their GP or a local mental health charity/organisation. Many employers have their own personnel staff who are well versed in the subject whilst smaller employers have access to business organisations’ support networks which should be referred to if necessary.
Advice along these lines is now readily available but did not exist when I was representing members. If it had, I am absolutely certain that it would have had a positive impact on many people’s lives.
As more and more household names in the sporting and entertainment industry open up about their mental health experiences, it is important that sufferers feel free to talk, do not feel alone, that they will get help and that they will get better!
No smoke with fire
A mate recently told me that he had been researching his family tree when he found that his great-great-grandfather had emigrated to the Wild West of the United States where he made his fortune selling smokeless coal to American Indians who weren’t talking to each other.