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.

Is Your Mental Health In The Red?

Over the years I have treated a great many people struggling with a variety of psychological issues. Some of the issues I treat are straightforward, some less so. But more often than not the root cause of the problems my clients face is one of the unholy trinity: love, money and work.

Years ago, as society began to understand the DNA of mental health, it was a commonly-held belief that debt caused depression. To an extent, that’s still the case. But there’s increasing evidence to show that the opposite is also true and that a significant life event like the loss of a job, chronic and debilitating poor health or the disintegration of a relationship can often be debt’s smoking gun.

But whether debt is the chicken or the egg in the evolution of poor mental health, the truth is that the impact of even mild financial stress on your wellbeing can be the start of a vicious circle that leads, by increments, into emotional paralysis.

Unless we’re lucky enough to be born into wealth, debt in one form or another is something most of us will experience in our lifetime. In most cases, debt will take on the guise of an ever-present but manageable overdraft or a maxed-out credit card. And by and large our psychological response to that level of financial pressure is to build the repayments and the interest into our day-to-day lives.

Our debt becomes a fixture and we manage it by making small sacrifices elsewhere to even out the repayments and the interest charges.

But once we’re on debt’s treadmill, it doesn’t take much for it begin to dwarf our ability to get out from under the weight of our financial exposure. And, in turn, it takes less to tip us over the edge and into debt’s great chasm until, eventually, we find ourselves borrowing money to pay back the money owe to someone else.

Wherever we turn we’re met with the lure of increasingly diverting ways in which to thunder headfirst toward financial ruin. The never-ending furniture sales, the interest-free loans (which, when you think about it, are simply interest-free debt), the buy-now-pay-later mentality of having what we need and want right now.

And on the dark road of debt accumulation, our companion is first stress, then anxiety and then depression. The more debt, the greater the desperation and the greater the desperation, the more overwhelming the depression.

Debt is the locked room from which no escape seems possible.

And in the midst of the misery there are vultures which circle above, watching each faltering step you take into private mental agony and holding out the promise of instant relief. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the companies who look at you and see your desperation not as a personal tragedy unfolding in real life, but as an ermine-trimmed opportunity to make it worse by appearing to make it better.

They prey on those who are the most vulnerable, offering expensive money to those who can least afford it.

Welcome to the three-ring circus of payday loans, where everyone’s a winner. For a day. Or a week. Or a month. Or a year. Or until they lose everything.

Because once you’ve reached the point where what’s coming in doesn’t even cover your debts, never mind the costs of actually keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, interest at 1250% APR doesn’t seem like the end of the world. Even though it might just be exactly that, if you only knew it.

Hope dies last. Hope is the belief that things will be better tomorrow. A month to pay back a few hundred quid? Anything can happen in a month. A new job. The lottery. An unexpected inheritance. And frankly, next month might as well be next year, because right now every day lived in the glare of constant worry and depression feels like a lifetime. A month is a long time. Until it’s not.

Google ‘payday loans’ and see what comes back in the search results. Sunny Loans with the not-so-sunny 1277% interest. QuickQuid and SwiftMoney with their 1255% rate. The numbers are so preposterous, so outrageous, so irresponsible, that it’s impossible to believe they could have any customers. But then, desperation looks very different from the other side.

These ‘quick-fix’ merchants promise instant relief from debt and worry in ten minutes or less. But what they create is a situation far, far worse than the one you might already be in. They are, in their own way, the architects of a misery and a mental anguish that most of us, thankfully, will never experience. They are the clown with the smiling face who lurks in the sewer. And when he gets hold of you, it only takes a missed payment or two for the smile to give way to a mouth full of razor sharp teeth.

The link between debt and mental health isn’t up for debate. But the interest that these payday loan companies charge is. Yet even with serious intent, the path to responsible lending will be long and hard-won.

In the meantime, there’s a different kind of help available. The sort of help that could point you in a different and more positive direction, both financially and mentally.

If you’ve suffered a trauma or an event that has compromised your ability to pay your bills or your response to your current mental state is to buy what you can ill-afford (which is also a very common way of stumbling into unmanageable debt) support is available  in various forms: 

Getting professional help from someone like myself to deal with the emotional challenges you face, which in turn will make you more resilient and better-able to manage life’s practical issues, like finances.

If debt is already an issue, talk to the Citizens Advice Bureau which can act as an intermediary between you and your creditors – whether it’s your bank, mortgage lender or other supplier – and make special arrangements for the repayment of your liabilities that will take the pressure off you.

And it’s also worth looking at Debtors Anonymous,  a 12-step recovery programme who’ll help you to begin the process of unravelling the rats’ nest of emotional issues that almost certainly underpin chronic debting, underearning or overspending.     

Your finances may be in the red, but your mental health doesn’t need to be.

Curse Or Addiction?

“But the root of all these evils is the love of money, and there are some who have desired it and have erred from the faith and have brought themselves many miseries.” – First epistle of the Apostle Paul to Timothy

I find that quote from the New Testament intriguing; not because it is a religious text – each to their own on that score – but because it seems to me to be a metaphor for the power that material wealth can have on our emotional wellbeing.

The words the faith, for example, could easily be interpreted as a sense of morality or of right and wrong. And the notion that the desire for, and acquisition of, wealth can bring misery seems to me to have more than a ring of truth about it. 

Quite simply, being rich beyond imagination doesn’t buy you happiness – just ask Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and his wife Dasha Zhukova who this week announced their separation after ten years of marriage. If £7bn can’t buy you contentment then it’s probably safe to say no amount of money can. 

And whilst there are plenty of very wealthy people who seem to live their lives in quiet contentment, apparently putting the Apostle Paul’s sentiment to the sword, history is littered with the stories of society’s super-rich who seem to have been cursed with ill-fortune for generations.

The Kennedys, the Grimaldi royal family, the Gettys and the Rothschilds spring easily to mind as families which appear to have been magnets for tragedy down the decades. Yet surely no family has been as cursed as the Guinness dynasty.

Since Arthur Guinness founded his brewing empire in the mid-18th Century, misadventure after misadventure has befallen his heirs and close family members. From the 1960s the litany of catastrophes became so great that people began to talk of the ‘Guinness curse’.

First, Guinness heir Patrick Browne was killed when he ran a red light in Kensington and smashed into a van. Henrietta Guinness committed suicide in Italy in 1978 and was followed into the grave in short order by Dennys Guinness (suicide), the son of John Guinness (car crash), Caroline Blackwood whose Gothic existence saw her succumb finally to death through alcoholism and two minor heirs who died from drug overdoses.

Though the notion of a curse is of course highly romantic in the literary sense, it’s probably closer to the truth to suspect the tragedies that have befallen the Guinness family and others are the simply result of a toxic mixture of poor mental health. 

It’s no coincidence that drug and alcohol addiction feature prominently in the Guinness story. If money is at the root of all evil, then as the author and addiction specialist John Bradshaw says, shame is at the root of all addictions. And nothing is more likely to bring you bad luck than addiction.

The Guinness tragedies – both fatal and non-fatal context – have little to do with bad luck and far more to do with the shame of the past. Addiction is a symptom of something buried deep within the subconscious. 

One can speculate with some degree of logic on how great wealth can impact negatively on those who have it – and particularly on children. Certainly, it’s no coincidence that the Guinness story is awash with accounts of children who were either denied parental love or were actively neglected. One early account talks of immediate child heirs who were abandoned to such an extent that they were forced to beg neighbours for food scraps.

Abandonment, a common theme to a greater or lesser extent throughout the dynastic tragedies of the modern era, is a great nourisher of shame. As John Bradshaw observes: “Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.”

As I’ve said before, no-one chooses to saddle themselves with an addiction, because addiction needs a trigger – and invariably that trigger comes in the form of shame. Shame at losing a job, shame at failing in a relationship, shame for one’s heritage, shame for behaving badly. Shame is the mother of all bad luck because of the life choices she provokes.

It’s hard not to look at the Guinness family and not come to the conclusion that chronic dysfunction has been a frequent bedfellow. If, as Bradshaw suggests, delusion is sincere denial, then it’s not difficult to see how psychology can short-circuit. 

Money breeds power, power breeds money and the acquisition and retention of both generally requires a ruthlessness that has no space for an upbringing or lifestyle that could be described as being in any way normal and often proves destructive in later life.

There’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it doesn’t just corrupt politically and financially, but also emotionally.

And if you’re beginning to think that this doesn’t apply to you or the people you know because you don’t have several million washing around the family piggy bank, it’s useful to bear in mind that wealth and its impact is relative.

If one starts with nothing, the figure at which you might be described as wealthy is very much lower than the figure at which others might judge their riches. Being poor doesn’t mean you’ll never have to deal with shame, far from it – but it does mean your lifestyle, problems and fall from grace can’t be supersized to the same extent.

Money in and of itself isn’t at the root of all evil. Neither is the desire for affluence. There are sufficient numbers of happy, wealthy people to prove that. 

But if the well of your emotional wellbeing has already been fundamentally poisoned by your past, then having great reserves of money can artificially insulate you against your unhappiness and the unhappiness of others. Living fast and loose by making poor lifestyle choices around addiction means you might fly for longer, but reaching rock bottom and finally seeking the help you can take longer. And as some of those infamous families will testify, you might run out of time before that happens.

Lady Henrietta Guinness, prior to leaping to her death from a bridge in Italy in 1978, wrote a suicide note in which she proclaimed: “If I had been poor, I would have been happy.”

Sadly, the truth is that had she been poor, she would very likely still have been unhappy – but she might have recognised her unhappiness for what it was and, in that knowledge, taken a different course of action to deal with it.

At the beginning of this article I said that money can’t buy you happiness. But using it to invest in the right kind of help and deal with whatever trauma or shame is leading you to make dangerous choices can very often, accompanied with some solid self-work, set you on the road to good mental health.


What’s Your Subconscious Credit Rating?

What's Your Subconscious Credit Rating?

Your relationship with money is one of the oldest relationships you will have in your lifetime, so it stands to good reason that your money beliefs may well be outdated.  In essence, many of our beliefs about money were formed in childhood before we even had any!

This is no problem if we were born into a household with a healthy relationship to money, but adult life can become a financial snake pit if you weren’t!

Many of our beliefs around money are inherited from our parents, or those in our immediate sphere during childhood. Our conscious, rational mind doesn’t develop until around the age of 9, up until this point our subconscious is in control. This means we are highly impressionable to all around us and we often take what is told to us and absorb it as the ‘truth’.

Consciously we all want to have a good relationship with money – as anything but that will often create a struggle – however what we are creating on a subconscious level in our lives can be a different experience on a day-to-day basis.

Continue reading…

Be Great Friends With Money

Be Great Friends With Money

Abundance is a big issue for many people and being friends money is important if we want to live a comfortable life. Money itself is neutral – sounds obvious but how many times do you get angry and frustrated money? the thoughts and beliefs we have about it that cause the problems, so much of the time we put ‘our stuff’ on money and then blame money for it. If you don’t feel subconsciously that you deserve it, you can end up throwing it away through overspending, or underearning through not charging enough for your services or by not valuing your time by continually giving it away for free. If you were brought up with toxic beliefs around money (such as ‘money is the root of all evil’) you may find this is especially true for you. One of the easiest ways to find out what your subconscious beliefs about money are is to take a look at your bank balance and general credit and debit situation, what’s going on subconsciously is all too often reflected in your external life.

Continue reading…

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.