Mental Health Stigma Kills
Is mental health the last workplace taboo? Today is World Mental Health Day. Despite the fact that 1 in 3 people*1 in the UK experience mental ill health, we still find it difficult to talk about it and seek support. Mental ill health is not something that happens to other people. It happens to people like you and me.
The results of a recent survey of 2,000 workers, published in the Guardian today, show that 40% experienced symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the past year. I know from my work with leading employers, that there is still a very poor uptake of resources available through occupational health. This is often due to the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health, which is usually caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge. People are concerned about the impact that disclosing their mental illness may have on their career.
Stigma kills. If people feel unable to seek support when they are experiencing emotional distress, this can lead to suicidal thoughts as people look for a way to escape the distress. Suicide is more common than you might think. 3 times as many people die by suicide in the UK than in road traffic accidents. It is the biggest killer of our young men. The global figure for people who experience suicidal thoughts during their lifetime can be as high as 1 in 2. We just don’t talk about it.
There is a common misconception that if someone has experienced mental ill health once, they are more likely to become ill again in the future. The vast majority of people make a full recovery from a period of mental ill health and never experience their symptoms again. Even people who have a severe and enduring mental illness are able to manage their symptoms with on-going support, talking therapies, medication and self-management techniques. As an employer, our expectation should be that most people make a full recovery, in the same way as we would if they were experiencing a physical illness.
I have seen a marked shift in the past 5 years, with more employers recognising the importance of good mental health, not only as a responsible employer but also the impact on business performance. Mental ill health costs UK business £26 billion per year*2, which equates to approximately £1,000 per employee.
A very small investment of time and resources can have a huge impact on a business. We have found that just a short 2 hour training session with line managers can be enough to give them the knowledge to recognise the early warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression in work colleagues and the confidence to intervene and make sure that they get the support that they need. This kind of mental health awareness programme was found to have contributed to a 15% reduction in sickness absence in a leading FTSE 100 financial services company. This programme was delivered by trainers who had first hand experience of working at a senior level in the city. Line managers reported that the credibility of the facilitators and their understanding of the high pressure environment gave them increased confidence to tackle this difficult issue.
The time has come for all businesses to start talking about and addressing mental health in the workplace.
*1 AMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.16 Published online March 26, 2014.
*2 Source: Centre for Mental Health
Guest Blog: Active Citizenship in the 21st Century
Active citizenship can be defined as
‘A citizen who commits his or herself to an action that benefits society’
In the 21st century digital technology widens the option for choosing when and how much to contribute to society, from spreading a tweet message in a campaign to joining and getting involved in an online community.
We can campaign, and share and spread messages quickly across the globe. The internet has enhanced our ability to communicate, raise profile and promote our chosen cause, e.g. through ‘World Days’. Twibbons and tweet #hashtags have played a growing role for people leading and participating in campaigns. #wspd is an excellent example with credit due to Dr Alys Cole-King on her pioneering use of twitter to spread the word and build support for World Suicide Prevention Day. Additionally the #UcanCope #hashtag will allow her U Can Cope NHSChangeday a sustainable future http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/changeday14
We can choose our online persona and keep our identify private. This has been the cause of much concern for very good reason, but a good example of how this can also help people was shared by a good friend of mine, Lisa Cox who featured in the NHS 65 celebrations http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/nhs-anniversary/Pages/altogether-better-lisa-cox.aspx She says that people who anonymously connect online might not be getting help anywhere else.
We can have conversations with large groups of people connected by values, purpose and common experience, find out and share information about almost anything at the click of a button or swipe of a screen! Check out http://www.our-diabetes.org.uk/, a ‘patient’-led collaboration which uses the tweetchat #ourdiabetes to encourage peer-to-peer conversation and support.
Sue Sibbald (@bdpffs) is one of the incredible e-community leaders supporting and caring for her community by sharing information, making connections and facilitating conversation through the facilitation of #bdp tweetchat. Anne Cooper (@anniecoops) and Michael Seres (@mseres) are other e-community leaders who help people in their communities all over the world, day and often night!
Another form of citizenship has emerged through digital story-telling, the most popular form is blogging. These Story sharers spend an incredible amount of time and effort sharing their stories and they are often driven by a desire to benefit society, making blogging a part of digital citizenship in health, here are two examples that are well worth reading:
Downside Up http://www.downssideup.com/
In the Blink of an Eye http://intheblinkofaneyepoemsbyadambojelian.blogspot.co.uk/
Charity Chat Rooms and Digital Platforms provide the space where active citizens in a given community can get together to share experiences and information and encourage and support each other. Two great example of charity-led chat rooms are ‘Everyday Living’ http://www.mssociety.org.uk/forum and the Macmillan Chat Rooms http://community.macmillan.org.uk/p/communitychat.aspx New digital citizenship platforms are springing up ever more frequently, for example www.crowdhealth.me and the www.bigwhitewall.com which was set up as an early intervention service for people in psychological distress.
There is a cautionary note to add: beware of the potential for harm in ‘bad’ information, trolling or targeting of vulnerable people and there are also the issues of slacktivism (‘likes don’t save lives'), the digital divide and the integrity of purpose of many of the data harvesting commercial companies!
Digital Technology is creating the conditions for real ‘people-powered health’, providing an amplifier for voices of citizens who are passionate about changing the status quo. At its very best digital technology offers a tool to support and enhance offline activities.
In the 21st Century citizenship has gone digital, giving us more opportunity and choice over how we can contribute to society and make a difference to real lives all over the world!
Tackling Stigma saves Lives
Research shows that people in distress, in vital need of support, do not seek life saving help because of the stigma of mental illness and suicidal thoughts. As a society we can decide whether to stigmatise something or not. We can also choose NOT to stigmatise something that kills three times as many people in the UK as road traffic accidents. Often stigma comes from fear and lack of understanding. Connecting with People are committed to tackling stigma and helping large organisations with mental health training and awareness. We’ve pulled some information together that summerises some of what we do. Do feel free to share this information amongst your contacts or on your website. Please contact us directly via the website. Perhaps you could link to our new 3 min film called ‘Breaking down the stigma of suicide’ which features a snippet of the Connecting with People Suicide Awareness training.
Connecting with People
Connecting with People (CwP) is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation. It provides free on-line self-help resources and offers a range of training in building emotional resilience, mental health awareness and suicide mitigation. It undertakes promotional activity to tackle stigma around mental health.
Core CwP themes
Connecting with People promotes a role for all in suicide prevention and supporting emotional well-being. It aims to ensure that everyone trained is able to make well-informed interventions within their level of expertise and competence. Professionals are trained to be aware of patient safety in relation to suicide prevention. Central to the whole approach and ethos is the importance of compassion and collaboration. We have a dedicated module, Compassionate Care and compassion also forms an important learning objective across the whole programme.
The CwP training is modular and is designed to be delivered across large organisations as well as to small groups. There is an option to develop in-house training teams for low ongoing cost. We have collaborated with the Royal Colleges, Universities and subject experts including people with lived experience. CwP training is evidence-based, fully evaluated and it is published and peer reviewed. The research base and evidence underpinning the Connecting with People training is outlined on our website: http://www.connectingwithpeople.org
CwP Workplace Training
CwP Workplace Health & Wellbeing training programmes are between 1 and 2 hours in duration to minimise the disruption to the business operation and specifically developed for people working in a high pressure environment. They were developed with our sister organisation, Stand to Reason. They have significantly increased awareness about mental health issues and provided managers with the knowledge to identify early warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression. At Legal and General our programmes demonstrated a sickness absence reduction of 15% after adjustment for seasonal variation. Productivity increased by 13.8%.
Free online Self-help RCPsych resources
Connecting with People have developed a range of practical and compassionate self-help resources with their collaborators on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists - available to anyone in need of advice and support. They promote appropriate self-help and inform people regarding useful strategies, how to create a ‘safety plan’ and how they can access help and support. They are endorsed by the Royal College of General Practioner’s, College Emergency Medicine, CALL and Samaritans.
Guest Blog: Changing Minds
I’m sorry if I made you cry. Crying seems to be one of the frequent responses prompted by my blog from 1 August – Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything. This blog, about the suicide of my brother, was read by thousands of people. Many of them told me how moved they were. Others offered support. Some brave souls came out with their own stories of how they had been affected. I am grateful to all of them. The blog is here.
I started blogging earlier this year as part of a concerted effort to use social media to enhance my communication. As a leader, I understand the importance of communication. It is also increasingly clear to me that if you want someone to change their behaviour, you have to first change their mind. This is at the heart of World Suicide Prevention Day.
We are setting out to change minds on two important things.
The first is on tackling the stigma associated with suicide. The figures on suicide and self harm are shocking. The biggest killer of young males and an increasing facet of the lives of young girls everywhere. You probably know someone who is affected or have been affected yourself. Yet this is not a subject that is discussed openly. It took me ten years to write the blog about my brother. Perhaps the ten years gave it its focus and power. Despite the incredible feedback, I still find it difficult to discuss. So let’s use today to talk about suicide and begin to break down the stigma, to rub away the stain it leaves in every conversation and every life. Because it is a fact of life in many families and in every community.
The second is to shift the emphasis towards suicide mitigation and compassion to help prevent suicide. Or as Dr Alys Cole-King says – “Every encounter with a suicidal person is an opportunity to intervene to reduce their distress and, potentially, to save a life”. This involves compassionate interventions that are well founded in research and should be available to staff. These reduce the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that kill thousands of people each year.
Imagine the power of these two things combined. Awareness of suicidal thoughts and feelings raised because it becomes OK to talk about suicide and interventions that mitigate suicidal feelings. Perhaps today, we can start to make this a reality. It will take time and persistence and resilience. It will be worth it. For me and my family. For you and yours.