Managing Director, Affinity for Business

Helen Gillett: Mental health, beyond the hashtag, beyond ‘awareness’

last week seemed all about the hashtag – #WorldMentalHealthDay19

I’m not alone in thinking, and saying, that actions speak louder than words, and we need to move beyond talking about mental health to doing. That was a strong theme at the Legal and General Not a Red Card event a couple of weeks ago and at the MadWorld summit last week.

I saw a share on Twitter of an @Nick_Pettigrew post that said:

The Current mental health conversation is this: Imagine if most people didn’t know what a fire was. And your house being on fire was socially stigmatised. Recently we’ve become better educated on what fire looks like. Told it’s ok to admit it’s on fire.

But there’s no fire brigade”

I’ve seen variations on that theme. And it makes perfect sense. There’s a lot more we need to do (using our vote?) to help improve provision for mental health in our society, and it is heartbreaking at times to read about the struggles individuals and families have with trying to access help.

When I’m on good form, I’m all about lighting a candle not cursing the darkness, and when I was finally home last Friday after a very full-on (enjoyable but draining) week, I was moved to write this to my team at Affinity for Business, on our internal comms platform, Yammer:

Is it all too much, this mental health thing??

a quick thought on this, prompted by some of the stuff I was reading in the margins of yesterday, hashtag awareness

For me at the moment mental health in work falls into 2 categories, in terms of the responsibilities I feel as the MD of a company and also a human colleague of 90+ people:

work shouldn’t make anyone ill – it shouldn’t cause excessive stress; people should be able to take breaks; eat well; have natural light; be encouraged and supported to exercise; be able to trust that their manager and colleagues value and care about them; be thanked; be treated fairly; be able to develop their career if they want; learn new skills; be listened to. There’s more to add to this list I am sure.

If someone has a chronic or acute mental health challenge, diagnosis or otherwise, it should be ok to talk about it if they want to; get signposting to professional help; not discriminated, abused or harassed; be treated with dignity. They should be able to take the time off they need in order to be treated and recover if that’s required. Again, I think there are things to add to this list that may not occurr to me this afternoon!

my point is – I’ve seen opinions on various social media platforms that say all this awareness raising, hashtagging and green ribbon wearing is trivialising the issue. And I understand that persepctive.

Mental health is a spectrum, from well to very, very unwell – for some people it’s actually terminal.

But I think that being open about mental health, and creating a psychologically safe space at work does have its place. Not least because an awful lot of people have had to suffer in silence over the years, for fear of the stigma, of being judged, looked at oddly, having assumptions made about them. And worse still, plenty of people who have tried or succeeded in taking their own lives never showed the outward signs beforehand. Those facts make the case completely in my view.

Yes, we shouldn’t trivialise, we should be careful about our language (no genuine sufferer ever says ‘I’m a little bit OCD’, or ‘a bit depressed’), but we should also recognise that spectrum and be welcoming of everyone’s story or experience. Because if it’s not happening to us, it’s happening to someone we love, we know, we work with, or we walk past in the street. And it could be us next time.

Thanks for reading, food for thought I hope”

As well as taking responsibility within my business, the other thing I’m working on, with some great, like-minded people, is a nascent Hertfordshire mental health alliance nicknamed HertsAndMinds. Inspired by the work at the City Mental Health Alliance, led by the excellent Poppy Jaman, a group of us in Hertfordshire-based businesses (including Stevenage Leisure, JPA Furniture, Volker Wessels, Altro Ltd, Bourne Leisure and the Uni of Herts) are working on ways to share best-practice, learn from each other and spread the word. It’s something I wanted to do months ago (possibly even last year…) but thanks to Yolanda Rugg pitching in with me, it’s actually starting to come together.

If you’re feeling like there’s too much talking a not enough doing, I’d love to know what you’re planning to work on, what I can learn from you and how I can be involved!



If you’d like to read more content from our Managing Director, Helen, head over to her LinkedIn Profile.


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