Breaking the Mental Health Taboo at Work

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The slogan for this year’s campaign, “Surviving or Thriving” sums up the juxtaposition people experience when juggling their internal feelings with an outward reflection of ‘normality’. This constant act can be exhausting, and doesn’t bear semblance to the reality of the struggles they face.

So why are so few of us thriving with good mental health? There is debate as to what is causing this steep rise in mental health issues. Some place the blame on social media, others on the current socioeconomic climate. What remains true is that people, mostly men, tend to shy away from discussing the emotional issues they are battling – and it’s killing them. Suicide is the number one cause of death in men under 45 years old.

Furthermore, around one in four individuals in the UK will have experienced mental health issues in the last year, and those who do experience it could have recurring problems. According to a survey conducted by Comres for BBC Radio 5 live, around half of us wouldn’t speak up about mental health issues at work despite almost everyone experiencing it at one point in his or her life.

This year, Instagram chose to address this issue by encouraging users to use the hashtag #HereForYou to open up about their own struggles and kick start a global conversation. The campaign video features Pretty Little Liars actress Troian Bellisario, who discusses her struggle with anorexia, and filmmaker Elyse Fox’s battle with depression. The campaign follows Instagram’s roll-out of other mental health-minded resources over the past 12 months, including anonymous reporting tools and the ability to turn off comments.

You might also have seen Prince Harry and William’s work for the charity Heads Together, inspired by their struggle to talk candidly about the impact of their mother’s death. The campaign unites eight charities to break the taboo and raise awareness – through short films, conferences, podcasts, exhibitions and events – and funds for mental health causes.  

While it’s encouraging to see mainstream media opening up about mental health, this is something that still requires a lot of work to remedy in our daily lives – and the only way to make those forward strides is to remove the stigma and start talking. Particularly in the workplace, where we spend the majority of our time.  

However, for some, the fear of repercussion when highlighting personal problems is probably the initial obstacle. Individuals might think employers see them as incapable of doing their jobs properly. We also tend not to share personal problems with co-workers or managers, as there is a pressure to ‘leave your problems at the door.’

As communications professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to communicate with almost anyone. We have no problem shouting about the solid relationships we have with our journalist friends, or the great job we did pitching to a prospect, but why is it so hard to communicate when things are not going so well emotionally?

Individuals like to keep personal and professional lives separate, free from conflict – but it’s vital to voice when things are not going well. The people you work with day in day out will understand and offer support. Admittedly, it’s hard to share personal problems that have a lasting effect on your psyche, but opening up to the people you trust, even in the workplace, will make it easier to get through. We should use our skills as communicators to break the taboo and be the shoulder to lean on.

May 12, 2017

Steven de Waal