Does The Financial Wellbeing Of Your Business Mirror The Mental Health Of Your Team?

London Cityscape At Sunset

On Monday I had the privilege of being asked to lead a session on mental health in the workplace for the TruMunity Unconference in London, a recruitment event for HR leaders and recruitment professionals with informality and learning at its heart.

When thinking about what to talk about, I kept coming back to the role business has to play in tackling the mental health crisis the UK faces.

A study into wellbeing in the workplace recently estimated that around 97 million work days are lost each year in the UK to mental health issues.

Imagine the impact of that figure for a moment. It equates to more than a quarter of a million years. And if you’re having trouble processing that, it’s around 50,000 years longer than we’ve been on the earth.

A separate piece of research estimates that of all the absence certificates issued by GPs each year, a third relate to one form of mental health condition or another.

Whilst I find the numbers eye-wateringly high, I’m not exactly surprised. The workplace has long been a toxic environment and the only really bewildering thing is that as a society we haven’t yet got to grips with it.

Much of that is to do with the almost glacial speed at which business has come to understand that mental health isn’t a minority issue and never has been. In fact, a great many companies still struggle with the notion that mental wellbeing affects every person on the payroll.

It may have been more convenient, back in the day, to think that poor mental health was limited to emotionally catastrophic conditions like catatonic depression, schizophrenia and psychosis, but a bit like the Ford Capri and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum!, those days are long gone.

The commercial cost of poor mental health in the workplace is simply staggering, and it goes far beyond the lost working days I talked about at the start of this article, because mental health materially affects the culture of business, not just the person dealing with the condition.

If a business routinely fails to provide the correct framework of support and care for its people, or fails to build that framework into its values, then the likely outcome of that is a staff base which is more susceptible to poor mental health. When those people aren’t given the support they need, the perception of others will be of an organisation that doesn’t value its employees. Goodwill erodes. Morale tanks. Productivity declines. Margins reduce. Profits fall. Shareholders become restless. The chain reaction is spectacular, but destructive.

Often the reluctance of business to invest in mental wellbeing is because it sees common conditions, like stress and anxiety, as ‘soft’ issues. Conditions like shingles or flu present with physical symptoms which are tangible and therefore a sympathetic response – ‘take a few days off’ – is easy to process, even if the absence is inconvenient.

But except in extreme cases, stress and anxiety are invisible – often, it has to be said, to the person struggling with them as well as to their colleagues or employer. I treat many people who have been battling stress for years before something triggers a significant acceleration and they become no longer able to cope.

And although commerce and industry has, as a whole, become much better at responding constructively to employees struggling with poor mental health, there are still too many unreconstructed employers out there whose reaction to an employee with a mental health issue is the equivalent of telling them to ‘man up’.

There’s also a need to acknowledge the fact that there is a shame factor at play here, too. For an employee working in a company that doesn’t take mental health seriously, there are all kinds of barriers to sharing a problem with someone higher up the corporate food chain because of the perceived risk of the irreversible damage that will do to their reputation and career prospects.

That means organisations need to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. By leading from the front on mental health care in the workplace and actually being seen to be doing the right thing, the chances are that an issue will be addressed properly and at an earlier stage, before it reaches crisis point.

If you run a business or are a senior member of the management team in your organisation, you should ask yourself what your policies and processes are when it comes to dealing with mental health, because there’s a good chance your bottom line is only as good as they are.

Why We Must Educate The Government About Education

I’m rarely driven to the point of invective, but recently I’ve read about two pieces of bewildering Government policy the logic of which, no matter how hard I try, I’m unable to rationalise.

Worse, I’m genuinely worried that together they could, If I’ve interpreted them correctly, produce the most emotionally damaged generation of people we’ve ever seen.

First came the news that  100,000 teenagers will be provided with mental health training to help them cope with the pressure of exams.

Before we get to the second policy that’s troubling me, let’s just dwell on that, for a moment. Consider the process that has led the Government to that position. Consider the number of people who must have been involved in the process of constructing the financial and political argument so compelling that the Cabinet Office felt bound to adopt it. Consider what the implications of that are.

It means the Government has accepted there is evidence that the exam structure it and previous Governments have implemented is actively damaging the mental health of our children. There’s no wriggle room here, no other reality. The only reason to introduce mental health training is because there is a mental health problem.

So let’s follow that breadcrumb trail. If the Government has accepted there is already a mental health issue related to the way this country approaches school exams, then it follows that someone, somewhere (and probably a good number of someones) has asked themselves whether the best solution is to counsel the children or to change an exam system which is putting appalling, unnecessary and unacceptable pressure on the majority of children (and their parents).

And the conclusion they’ve reached is that the best thing would be to keep the pressure ratcheted up and instead try to give the kids some coping tools in the hope they might not suffer a complete breakdown before they get to the age of 18.

Am I wrong to think this is the most monumentally ill-conceived, ill-advised and ill-considered strategy in the history of modern education? To call it stupid would surely be too kind.

At present, children at primary school take Statutory Assessment Tests (SATs) at the ages of 7 and 11. They then subjected to a battery of tests and exams at secondary school which include end of year tests, GCSE and A Level mocks along with the GCSEs and A Levels themselves.

SATs, GCSEs and A Levels all form the bulk of the scoring that dictates where in the league tables any given school sits. Which means that these exams are no longer just a test of a child’s ability, but also a test of a school’s ability to deliver effective teaching. Where you sit in the league table also determines the degree to which a school can expand academically and physically and so these exams are also linked to income streams.

The net result? An academic environment in which head teachers and teachers are fundamentally terrified to fail. And as the pressure cascades to on-the-ground teaching staff from the DofE via Ofsted, through local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers, so it grows to often intolerable levels.

Children crack at the age of 10 and 11 because they’re told over and over that they must not, under any circumstance, fail; parents crack because their children become shadows of the bright, happy individuals they once were before they entered our broken education system. Children aged between 15 and 18 crack because they’re told there is no future in failure.

Schools have become competitive exam factories rather than nurturing, guiding, neighbourhood establishments.  Rather than teaching children how to deal with more and more competitive pressure surely the role of school education needs to be reconsidered with the mental health of children being the main consideration.    Education in Britain has moved more and more towards being a consumer product rather than a means of enabling children to realise their ability and reach an independent functioning adulthood.  School has become a fuller and fuller focus on academic achievement. It has moved further towards hot housing the imparting of information in order to pass the next test rather than fostering curiosity, developing emotional IQ and gaining knowledge towards some kind of wisdom to help you through life

The number of children seeking counselling from people like me is rocketing. Numbers have never been so high. And yet the pressure continues to be reinvented and reapplied with no let-up.

It’s a monstrous process. And for what?

That brings me nicely to the second report of planned Government policy which, especially when considered in the context of the above, would almost be funny if it weren’t so horribly calculating and sinister.

The Universities minister (yes, there is such a thing), Jo Johnson has announced that the Government is to crack down on the number of first class degrees awarded by universities.

Mr Johnson – who has a first class honours degree from Oxford – says that what he describes as ‘degree inflation’ will be tackled in order to protect ‘the long-term value and currency of the degrees’.

The reason for this? Well, those pesky universities populated by students whose academic ability and mental resilience have been tested to (and often beyond) breaking point are just handing out too many of them.

So what does tackling ‘degree inflation’ mean in practice? Well, this is where we find ourselves back in Whitehall la-la land. One measure currently under consideration by the Office for Students, the regulatory body established recently to look into such things, is to introduce a quota system.

So, let’s get this straight. Universities are handing out too many top-class degrees and the way to tackle that is to only allow them to give out a certain number. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think I could come up with a more worryingly arbitrary system if I tried.

What that means in practice is that if you find yourself in a cohort of very talented students, you may deserve a first class degree but you won’t get one because they’ve run out. So presumably you’ll get a 2:1 instead?

In what sort of twisted world is that even vaguely acceptable?

Which brings me back to my original point. I’m worried about these two things because they demonstrate that far from being willing to tackle mental health in young people by making the right policy decisions, the Government is actually promoting the decline of mental wellbeing in the youngest generation by trying paper over a gaping chasm with a sticking plaster.

That is bad enough. But now our children’s mental health is being put at risk for no great reason, because even the small incentive of achieving the best degree possible (and let me say now that a good degree will never be a fair exchange for good mental health) is in danger of being taken away from them.

We really need to put a stop to this nonsense and the damage it is doing to children and young adults.    

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps one you’ve never asked yourself before. Maybe you’ve never felt you’ve needed to. After all, you might not be displaying any obvious sign that your emotional wellbeing is at risk and perhaps your lifestyle is a predictable drumbeat punctuated with an occasional burst of high octane.

In other words, you’re just … normal. Right? Okay. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. Only you know for sure. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t.

Now I’ve put the question out there, indulge me and take a few minutes to really think about your answer.

And while you’re doing that, let me explain why for a great many people – maybe even for you – their lifestyle is anything but normal and why it’s creating an unnecessary risk.

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The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

It’s the hardest job in the world. There’s no interview to see if you have the right skills for it, no fail-proof training to give them to you if you don’t. The original product is something you’ve never dealt with before and it arrives with dozens of accessories but no instruction manual.

In the early days, it emits all sorts of alarms, all of which relate to different operational issues but which, to your spectacularly untrained ear, sound exactly the same.

Through trial and error, you learn how to fix these problems. But no sooner do you resolve one than another, completely new problem arises for you to work out. And pretty soon you’re wondering if you’re worthy or capable of doing the job at all.

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Anxiety & Fear – What Is The Truth?

Anxiety & Fear - What Is The Truth?

As people it is quite easy for us to create a whole convincing reality in our heads. How do we know the difference between the actual truth and ‘a truth?’ When we experience anxiety, it is relatively simple to respond to that uncomfortable feeling from a negative perspective. By default we automatically go into fear, we convince ourselves that something awful is going to happen, since anxiety was a response to and created from unpleasant past experiences. We will naturally gravitate to our default setting, a defense mechanism that was put in place by our subconscious as a way to keep us safe, that is its job and it will carry out the task at hand regardless.

The subconscious knows nothing about linear time and is still responding to an old ‘threat’ with the same hyper alert response that it used many years ago. That old programme is running in the background, and is creating a reality from ‘a truth’ of how it used to be, as opposed to how we are living now, older and wiser, and hopefully no longer under threat, or in imminent danger. The subconscious is not at all concerned about how safe we are now, all it cares about is the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you! Anxiety can be very unpleasant and challenging, leading to a host of difficult symptoms, like OCD, drug and alcohol addiction. Hypnotherapy for Anxiety can help relieve these symptoms by negotiating with our subconscious Inner Protector that the external threat no longer exists, and thereby convincing it that we are now safe, not only that, but we are no longer in flight or fright response. It can let go and update that anxious reaction to life and its challenges, to more comfortable and harmonious responses that are relative to our present reality, enabling us to live by a new ‘truth’ that fills us with ease and well-being.

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Anxiety? Don’t Worry About It

Anxiety? Don't Worry About It

The point of this title is not to minimise or play down the impact anxiety has on the sufferer, far from it, rather to explain the ‘nature’ of anxiety and just why sufferers become so entrenched in the cycle of fearful thoughts and symptoms that is the quicksand of an anxiety disorder.

I specialise in anxiety and I understand only too well how debilitating anxiety can be, how it blights lives and can leave sufferers mentally exhausted, self-medicating with tranquillisers and alcohol and in some cases unable to leave the house for fear of an anxiety attack.

However, one of the worst things about suffering from anxiety is that whilst anxiety always begins for a reason: a prolonged period of stress, emotions you haven’t let yourself fully feel (anxiety is all too often a ‘lid’ over other unexpressed emotions such as grief or sadness), issues from childhood that haven’t been resolved (your subconscious mind begins ‘shouting’ at you through anxiety and depression – it’s a clever tool the subconscious uses to make someone sit up and pay attention), it all too often continues and the anxiety becomes a condition within itself: I call it ‘anxiety about the anxiety’.

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We Fear What Has Already Happened

We Fear What Has Already Happened

One of the first things I tell a client is this: the subconscious mind doesn’t understand time. Linear time simply does not exist in the subconscious. I feel it’s really important to understand this as it explains so clearly the irrational fears, phobias and anxieties that plague the individual whose lives in the present are actually in pretty good shape. They may be happily married but plauged with fears of their partner leaving them, despite their other halves consistent reassurances. They may be thriving at work but left sleepless at night with irrational fears of facing the chop. All too often people have good lives but for the deep undercurrent of ‘generalised anxiety’ that leaves them fully unable to enjoy their life and relax into themselves fully.

Often there is no reason in my clients present why their anxiety is nagging away at them with such incessant persistence, the reason is nearly always in their past: old heartbreaks, old losses, old traumas, old subconscious beliefs or even inherited beliefs and fears passed down from parents, schoolteachers or friends.

The truth is we fear what has already happened, and because our subconscious mind is our inner protector and wants to keep us safe it works very hard at keeping us vigilant against any future pain and leaves us on red alert, scanning the horizon for invisible threats!

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.