A couple of months ago there was a piece in the newspaper, reporting on a survey which had been carried out into the attitudes of company owners and employees towards mental health issues. Specifically, the survey asked about whether stress, anxiety and depression were regarded as valid reasons to take time off work. It also addressed employees’ views of how their employer dealt with such issues. The results weren’t at all surprising to me, but they made for depressing reading.
Around 70% of employers did not think these were sufficient cause to be absent from work, despite the fact that around a quarter of them admitted to having problems themselves. 40% of employees said that they would hide the real reason for their absence, fearing that they wouldn’t be believed or that their employer would treat them badly. To those of us who have at some point had mental health issues, and who have been affected by the stigma which they attract, this is a terrifying result. I was incredibly lucky, in that I worked for an NHS Trust which provided mental health services and had a boss and colleagues who were very supportive. Others don’t have these advantages when it comes to dealing with mental health. Too many times we hear of people who are regarded as malingerers, largely due to the ignorance of their employers. It is, I think, natural that physical illness can be more easily dealt with: after all, you can see the effects, whereas mental illnesses are in the brain and only become apparent if there are extreme behaviours as a result. For the great majority, however, the coping mechanism is to attempt to hide it. From personal experience I know how damaging this can be: the longer you try to hide the illness from others, the more you end up hiding it from yourself. The longer you do this, the harder it becomes to recognise that you need help and to do something about finding that help.
I have written before about my own issues – indeed, they were the reason I started this blog in the first place. If you want to know more about me the ‘My Story’ tab in the menu is the place for this, and you will also find many other posts about mental health here. But this post isn’t intended to be about me. By the end of this month there is a very real possibility that I will be completely free of medication, just over four years since I was first prescribed it. Looking back, I thought it appropriate to do something to mark this, and I am therefore in the process of compiling a page sharing online resources which I and others have found helpful. I expect this to go live next month, and hope that it will be a useful place for people to go if they need to find out more, either for themselves or for others. This will not be a static page: I aim to update it regularly with new resources, news stories and the like. I don’t kid myself that I know everything, either, and would hope that you will point me in the direction of resources that have been helpful to you. I’d like to include as many as possible! So please get in touch, either via commenting, my Twitter feed (I’m @clivechip) or if you’d prefer to do this in private you can use the ‘contact me’ form.
I am very aware of the stigma of mental health, and hope that in my small way I can do something to help break down the walls around mental health. The UK Government has promised to provide better funding for mental health treatments – but they have been saying that for years without anything really happening, so I’m not holding my breath! Where time, money and resources really do need to be spent is in education: I would love to see mental health as a formal part of the school curriculum, rather than it being left to individual schools to do what they can, if they feel so inclined. And we really need to educate employers about the impact of mental health issues on people – after all, in many cases it is those very same employers whose work practices have contributed to people’s mental health issues!
The title for this piece is deliberately chosen. As the song says, ‘every boy, girl, woman and man’ should work together. We are a long way from being a society where mental health is treated fairly, and we should all learn what we can do to help us move towards that.