Brave individuals sharing their experiences is an incredibly effective way to get conversations started about mental health in the workplace. The more people talk about mental health, the more the level of literacy on the issue improves, the more stigma is overcome and problems dealt with.
It is encouraging that today we see more high-profile people such as business leaders, sports celebrities and even royalty open up about mental health issues they have suffered. We should not underestimate the power of sharing one's own experiences to normalise what is a personal and often sensitive issue for many, to reduce stigma and encourage more to seek help.
In one such example, Virgin Money's Chief Executive recently shared her experience of post-natal depression following the birth of her daughter. The pressure she was under as Virgin Money prepared for a stock market flotation exacerbated her post-natal depression so much it led to suicidal thoughts. Her initial reaction had been self-criticism at being "weak-minded", but a trip to a doctor led to the diagnosis of a clinical problem. The prescription included shorter hours and more exercise, which led to a turnaround that remarkably saw her receive the highest performance-related bonus of her career.
The potential for such improvements in productivity was one of the reasons the World Health Organization chose depression as the focus of World Health Day in April to highlight the low levels of support and scant government investment to tackle the problem. The organisation estimates that depression is the largest single contributor to global disability.
So where does the employer fit into this?
Given the amount of time that we spend at work, and 1 in 4 of us suffering with a diagnosable mental health issue each year according to charity Mind, it would be a missed opportunity not to look for ways the workplace can improve employees' mental health and wellbeing.
One of the ways employers can do this is by creating an environment where people feel it is OK to discuss mental health – achieved through raising awareness, educating employees, challenging stigma, and ensuring support is available when required.
One of the most effective campaigns to raise awareness that we have observed is executives from a number of companies such as PwC, Deloitte and Aon itself coming forward to talk about their own experiences with mental health.
One of Aon’'s directors wrote a story about his experience with depression which was shared on our intranet and social media. The response from colleagues both with and without mental health issues was far greater than expected, which led to the formation of a new Diversity and Inclusion group, bringing together a large number of colleagues with an interest in supporting mental health & wellbeing in the business.
Our colleague was applauded for his bravery in going public with his story and this led to other colleagues doing the same through Aon's participation in the Lord Mayor's This is Me campaign video. This has to-date been the most popular post on Aon's intranet and plans are in place to create a global version. Aon won a Diversity & Inclusion Excellence Award in 2016 for its work in mental health.
The lesson from all of this is that story telling is an incredibly effective way to get conversations started about mental health in the workplace. The more people talk about mental health, the more the level of literacy on the issue improves, the more stigma is overcome and employees supported to remain happy, healthy and productive at work.
Aon Employee Benefits helps organisations improve the mental health and wellbeing of its workforce through analytics and strategic consultancy. Get in touch if you would like to know more.