70 or so people came together last night at Engine to discuss a topic that is relevant to us all and still (unforgivably) rarely discussed in business, mental health. It was an interesting, engaging and (at times) painfully emotional experience through a topic that is still one of the last great taboos in our society.
It is obvious that one in four of us suffers from mental health issues and once you factor in friends and family, it's something that affects us all. But it still carries a taboo that literally kills. 6,000 people in the UK take their own life annually (and a great many more attempt to), and the key to breaking down the taboo is better understanding. The key to starting to understand better is to start talking about it. Events like last night are a great start (and just a start).
Hosted by the ever brilliant, Gemma Greaves, it took the form of a fishbowl session where anyone could (and a lot of people did) share their stories and perspectives on the topic. We had poets (Hussain Manawer), CEOs (Robin Wight), senior marketers (Geoff McDonald) and a special appearance by the amazing Jonny Benjamin (Find Mike). We then heard from many open and honest folks about how mental health and attitudes to it have affected their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Far too much was talked through to do justice here but here are some of my key takeaways:
We really don’t do enough (virtually nothing): As an industry we almost encourage the conditions that are not conducive to good mental well being. We need to stop it. Now.
We don’t create the conditions: The positive stories all included people feeling they were able to raise the topic in their workplaces or with their bosses. All line managers need to encourage openness and honesty. It will save lives. It’s that simple.
It’s not all negative: It’s not about being “strong” or “weak”. It is about seeing mental health as simply a difference. Geoff Macdonald argued that it made him a better human being and the things being a ‘sufferer’ taught him – listening, caring, empathy – were actually a “business advantage” Robin Wight echoed this about his own idea to establish the ‘bi-polar advantage’ in the creative industries and the encourage an attitude of neuro-diversity.
It makes economic sense: The World Health Organisation now states depression as the leading medical world issue. This affects everyone and not addressing it has a simple and massively detrimental affect on the work force. It simply makes no sense economically to not address this issue as businesses.
Working closely here at Ogilvy on the #Inyourcorner campaign with the amazing Sue Baker OBE at Timetochange.org (who also had many wonderful and useful things to say last night) has taught me to view mental health in a very different light. I learnt many things but the main one that removing the stigma around mental health is the first, best step to resolving so many of the issues surrounding it. Talking about it and creating the conditions to talk about it in our workplaces is one of the most important things we can do as managers and leaders.
This is something that does or could affect us all - Ourselves, our partners, our children, our mates and our colleagues or peers. It is beholden to all of us – especially Line Managers – to create the conditions where more open and honest dialogue on the topic can be had and heard.