Senior Business Leaders Share Personal Mental Health Experiences and Publicly Challenge Workplace Mental Health Stigma
For the first time EVER senior business leaders have publicly shared their personal mental health experiences, in an effort to eradicate workplace mental health stigma. The ‘This is my Story’ event took place in London on 7th December 2016 and was organised by Minds@Work, a movement co-founded by Geoff McDonald, former Global VP of Human Resources at Unilever, Executive Director at Open Minds Health and passionate campaigner for breaking mental health stigma within the corporate world.
Research reveals that a staggering 71% of the people would worry about disclosing a mental health problem to their employer, fearful of receiving a negative response. A valid concern given that 1 in 5 people have lost a job at some point in their life following mental health disclosure or inappropriate disclosure on their behalf.
The implications of non-disclosure of mental health conditions has wide implications for both the employee and employer. Employee’s who feel unable to openly discuss their mental health are highly likely to experience increased professional anxiety, with no line management support, and risk finding themselves in a downward spiral leading to further mental health problems that could otherwise be avoided. For employers, the associated costs in terms of increased absenteeism, presenteeism, staff replacement and reduced productivity are significant; particularly as one in four people experience a mental health problem at any given time. The total cost of staff mental health problems to UK employers is estimated to be around £26 billion each year, the equivalent to £1,035 for every employee across the UK.
Employer’s that lead by example and purposefully create a culture that openly discusses mental health, can and will remove the stigma sting. Stigma relies upon ignorance, prejudice and discrimination for its survival. Introducing a framework that educates, supports and challenges attitudes and behaviour provides confidence to employee’s struggling that disclosure won’t result in negative consequences.
The ‘This is my Story’ event has gained media attention from BBC Online, BBC Business Daily, BBC Worldwide and The Telegraph, coverage that will no doubt help Minds@Work achieve their aim to normalise workplace mental health discussions and “create mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces where individuals can flourish and organisations prosper”
THE Award Validates the Importance in Addressing Student Mental Health
The esteemed Times Higher Education Awards are widely accepted to be the oscars of the higher education sector, celebrating innovative and inspirational projects, initiatives or endeavours that demonstrate best practice. Entries are numerous and competition is fierce. Winning an award is an prestigious accolade and this year’s winners were announced during an evening ceremony every bit oscar-inspired, with smart dress code and celebrity host Richard E Grant no doubt inspiring plenty of Withnail and I quotes! Comedy aside, this year’s event has proven to be incredibly significant for mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts, after the University of Wolverhampton claimed the Outstanding Student Support Award for a pioneering self-harm and suicide prevention programme.
The university’s ‘3 Minutes to Save a Life’ programme was born from a collaboration with Connecting with People, industry experts providing wellbeing, self-harm and suicide prevention training from a safe-guarding and ‘whole-community’ perspective. It equips all staff members (regardless of their employed role) with the skills, knowledge and confidence to gauge students’ distress and respond appropriately, as well as encouraging them to consider their own mental health needs and previously been considered best practice by student organisations NUS and AMOSHEE.
Nearly 450 staff members from academics to security staff have successfully attended sessions in Emotional Resilience, Suicide and Self-harm Awareness since training dissemination began and as ‘3 Minutes to Save a Life’ is a rolling programme, it offers a sustainable, cost-effective, safe and consistent approach to providing a supportive environment to both students and staff. The judges considered the University of Wolverhampton entry to be a clear winner. The ‘Train the Trainer’ model of delivery was regarded as an effective approach to rolling out training throughout, with the judges stating that “It’s an easy thing to say that all staff should be equipped to support their students in this way, but it’s not an easy thing to implement.”
The disparity between the traditional stereotype of students (lazy days in the pub, attending occasional lectures and generally being quite work-shy) and today’s reality has never been wider. Social, economic and political changes have had enormous implications for students in higher education, with a number of professional bodies raising concerns and providing recommendations for increased student mental health support. Universities are wonderful places that nurture talent, aid development and provide opportunities to students that otherwise wouldn't be available, however, honest discussions regarding the numerous concerning statistics of student mental health and the implications for service provision are undoubtedly required.
Winning the Outstanding Student Support Award with a mental health initiative has real potential to provide further validation of the importance in addressing student mental health, hopefully encouraging other HE providers to follow suit. Congratulations University of Wolverhampton, your pioneering approach may very well help other students UK wide in the future.
References available upon request.
Student Mental Health - Time for an Honest Discussion
The THELMAs (Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards) celebrate the successes of those who work ‘behind the scenes’ in higher education institutions. They’re a little like the BAFTAs for universities. They may not quite have reached OSCAR status (The ‘THE Awards’ takes this acclaim), however like the BAFTAs, they’re considered highly reputable and prestigious, with celebrity hosts (this years choice is Jimmy Carr) and outfits every bit as good!
Each year a charity is chosen to partner the THELMA awards, with 2016 shining a huge spotlight upon The Nightline Association, who provide the tools and support enabling student volunteers to run vital listening services within their university throughout the night. There are 39 Nightlines in the UK, all with fully-trained volunteers answering calls, emails, instant messages and texts from fellow students, and all offering a supportive, non-judgmental and anonymous outlet to those who are struggling. Trust fund donations from family members affected by suicide have enabled Nightline to collaborate with Connecting with People, industry experts providing wellbeing, self harm and suicide prevention training from a safeguarding perspective. These generous donations have allowed volunteers to receive an appropriate level of training and now armed with the knowledge, tools and confidence that could very well save a life.
There has never been more disparity between the myth and reality of todays higher education students. Long gone has the existence of the stereotype - spending lazy days in the pub, attending the occasional lecture and generally being quite work-shy (perceptions no doubt reinforced by the likes of TV programmes ‘Fresh Meat’ and ‘Skins’). Todays students are more likely to be experiencing difficulties in financial support, managing full time courses whilst working part time, with increasing awareness of the economic difficulties they face following graduation. That’s not to say that the student experience is all negative. Universities are wonderful places that nurture talent, aid development and provide opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available. Honest discussions regarding the pressures students face today and the implications upon mental health and service provision are beneficial for all and needn’t be regarded negatively. If anything, they offer universities a unique opportunity to further improve the overall, student experience. Given that mental health social responsibility is increasingly becoming a focus for staff development within the corporate world (The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have even launched their own ‘Heads Together’ campaign), universities are best placed to prepare students for the pressures of working life, reinforcing their status as true community leaders.
Historically, little attention has focused upon researching the mental health experience of UK students. However the last ten years has seen a significant increase in statistics and research, with concerns raised regarding high numbers of students choosing not to disclose mental health concerns and assessment methods used by universities in allocating mental health provision funding.
Youthsight’s ‘Psychological Distress in the UK Student Population: Prevalence, Timing and Accessing Support’ Report’ (on behalf of the Nightline Association) revealed that:
- 75% had personally experienced psychological distress whilst at university, with 1 in 3 students experiencing this at night, when specialist university welfare services are closed.
- 65% had experienced high levels of stress
- 43% had experienced anxiety, loneliness and feelings of not being able to cope
Time to Change, an anti-stigma programme run by charities’ Mind and Rethink Mental Illness revealed that:
- 66% (559) considered themselves as having a mental health disability, however only 0.3 per cent of students declared a mental health disability on their application form
- 93% (781) believed they have felt unusually stressed out while at university
- 76% (593) stated stress from personal problems, in addition to university work as main cause
The NUS survey of 1,093 students in further and universities in 2015 on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on students, revealed:
- 75% of students reported having had a mental health problem over the last year
- 1/3 reported experiences of suicidal thoughts, with this figure increasing to 55% to those who did not identify as heterosexual.
A number of reputable student and professional bodies have offered recommendations for institutional change; however student mental health remains a ‘hidden problem’ for many universities, thus making the service offered by Nightline all the more a vital.
“Rising fees, academic pressures and concerns about future employability all impact on student mental wellbeing, with the exam period being particularly stressful for many students. It is important that they can share those feelings and have somebody to talk to, even during the night.” Victoria Sinclair, Charity Manger.
I’m sure most would agree that troubles and concerns can feel ultra magnified at night and it’s good to know that Nightline is there for students who are struggling. Nightline services truly deserve to be the centre of attention at this years THELMAs. Shame there isn’t an award for the most outstanding charity supporting student populations….
A statement on recent suicide statistics for young people and students
Every suicide is a tragedy but the loss of a young person to suicide is even more devastating. Suicide is preventable. Suicidal people are in extreme emotional pain and are often ambivalent about dying. Their lives can be saved up until the final moment. People take their own lives because the distress of living becomes too great or illness or other personal circumstances seem intolerable. Statistics published by the National Confidential Inquiry this week are sober reading. Dr Cole-King, Clinical Director, Connecting with People states that “We wish we could reach every young person who is thinking that life isn’t worth living and help them to see that their feelings are a sign that they need to change something in their life, not to end their life”.
Research has repeatedly shown that encouraging help-seeking behaviour and ensuring an appropriate and early response saves lives. Increasing hopefulness, emotional resilience, and helping someone to identify their reasons for living, have all been proven to lead to a reduction in suicide rates. Teenage life is not always straightforward. It can be a challenging and complex time with academic and social pressures that can at times create a perfect storm of distress. The National Confidential Inquiry statistics show that a significant number of the young people who died by suicide had experienced life events such as bereavement, family ill health, neglect or abuse but for some it was a more ‘routine’ event such as exam pressure or common conditions such as asthma or acne that may have been the ‘final straw’. It is important that adults listen to young people and realize that for some a seemingly ‘minor’ issue could lead to suicide and to take every suicidal thought seriously. The majority of young people who end their lives by suicide are not in touch with mental health services around the time of their death. However, they are almost certainly always in contact with someone who could provide an opportunity to support.
Sadly, half of all young people who have died by suicide had a history of self-harm. The good news is that this knowledge provides an opportunity for suicide prevention for some. Most young people who self- harm are able to develop alternative ways of coping and replace the act of self-harm with less harmful coping strategies ‘Talking not Harming’ is an important transition in the road to recovery. Compassionate communication with people at risk of suicide saves lives. For those young people at risk of suicide, connecting with an empathic, confident and competent person could be their tipping point back to safety, when they start to receive and accept help to deal with their problems and find a way forward.
Shame and fear of discovery mean that young people often keep self-harm a secret. Unless medical treatment is required following self-harm, it is not usually reported. The reasons why people don’t seek help following self-harm aren’t known, however it seems likely that stigma is an important factor. On the other hand some may not disclose their self-harming behaviours because no one actually asks them if anything is wrong.
Secrecy is the big enemy here and encouraging young people to talk is the most important thing, Taking the time to ask a young person if everything is OK and responding in a caring, non-judgemental way is vital for creating a good foundation for discussions. Thousands of young people experience overwhelming thoughts of self harm every day, but they find ways to cope with these intense feelings. Like them, your child or the young person you care about, can work through their feelings.
It is never too late to take action,to help a situation that seems hopeless and every contact with individuals who self-harm is a opportunity to address the unbearable emotional distress that they are feeling.
There may be times when a young person’s level of distress is so severe that it will impair their ability to see an alternative to suicide, even where the impact of psychosocial stress, severe life events or illness could be mitigated with the right support. At such times, the moral imperative to reach out in order to save their life may necessitate the difficult decision to call for emergency help on their behalf, if their whereabouts are known.
People who self-harm or are close to suicide, but choose to seek help and receive support, are much less likely to end their own life. Furthermore, the majority of people who attempt suicide and survive, never try to take their own life again. If we can support a young person in distress and at risk of suicide, there is a good chance that we will save their life.
Many people don’t know how to approach someone who they think might be engaging in self harm and people who are distressed or overwhelmed and considering self harm, do not know where to go for help. Connecting with People have produced a series of leaflets on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, providing information for both individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and those who are concerned. These are available through the Royal College of Psychiatrists or the Connecting with People website: http://Connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope
Dr Cole-King said “It’s key that every young person considering self-harm or suicide needs to know they can be supported through tough times. They need a Safety Plan with details of what they can do to help themselves and who they can contact for support. Information about how to make a Safety Plan can be found in the ‘Feeling Overwhelmed and Helping You Stay Safe’ resource. This is an Interactive online resource for anyone struggling to offer hope, compassion and practical ideas and suggestions on how to find a way forward
Royal College of Psychiatrists leaflet on self-harm http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/self-harm.aspx
About Connecting with People
Connecting with People is an organisation of passionate professionals, united by a desire to reduce the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, by actively promoting a whole-community, cross-sector approach to self-harm. We have successfully collaborated with numerous organisations to disseminate our approach of building wellbeing, resilience and resourcefulness in young people. We offer two modes of training delivery to maximise delegate attendance at minimal cost. Our Direct-to-Participant modules can accommodate up to 30 delegates at a time, with our Train-the-Trainer programmes helping organisations to build a team of in-house trainers who are qualified to run sessions themselves.