I’m no expert… but can we talk?

If we break a bone, we go to A&E. If we have a temperature or a rash, we go to our GP. If we become anxious or depressed, most of us do the same thing: not talk about it.

The most recent Maudsley Learning at Work mental health training taster workshop on 17 June looked at ‘Open Conversations on Mental Health in the Workplace’, focusing on communication as a key enabler in the workplace and finding ways to destigmatise mental health issues.

Dr Michael Holland, Deputy Medical Director and Chief Clinical Information Officer at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said, “Patients are more likely to divulge that they have cancer at work than that they have mental health issues.” Stigma comes with illness and it makes no difference whether it is a physical or mental illness.

Dr Holland stated that “Illness is treatable and most people with a mental illness get better. The cost of mental health to workplaces is £26 billion, this is a major issue.” The only way to deal with mental health issues is to normalise it and the only way to get the support right is to have these conversations.

Dr Holland mentioned that “the conversations don’t have to be about illness, but wellness. Work–life balance, work load and stress should be spoken of openly to get the right support. Mental ill health is no different from any other illness. The trajectory of treatment is exactly the same as any other illness.”

He added that if you stay off work for more than 28 days, the chances of returning to work diminish to virtually zero. Recovery from a mental health issue can take upto three weeks, not that much different from the common flu recovery time.

Jessica Carmody, mental health advocate, writer, speaker, artist and change specialist, KPMG, has lived with depression for 20 years, leads the KPMG employee network for mental health support and speaks regularly about her own experiences.

She stressed the importance of the line manager. “Like physical health, line managers don’t have to be experts in mental health. If someone’s arm was hurting, you wouldn’t ask them to roll up their sleeve and have a look. So if someone comes to you saying they are unwell with anxiety, it is not right to expect that, as a line manager, you need to solve the problem.”

Ms Carmody said, “Through fear of saying the wrong thing or fear of the thing itself, line managers may not want to have those discussions. You are not expected to know everything about depression and that is OK. Be open about it, be respectful and keep the door open. Educate yourself over the support that the company does offer and keep mental wellness part of the conversations you have with your team.”

Training line managers to raise awareness of mental health, discuss appropriate language, help challenge myths and assumptions and reduce stigma relating to mental health is important. This helps employees to have ‘open conversations’ and enable productivity.

Maudsley Learning at Work can help line managers to detect changes early, and provide them with the language and confidence to start the conversation in the workplace to destigmatise the topic of mental wellness.

To find out more about line management training contact the Maudsley Learning at Work team.

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