Why is mental health still a taboo?

Despite greater awareness of the subject than ever before, suffering from poor mental health still carries a stigma, which can prevent some people from seeking help or sharing their experience with others. 

The tragic death of Caroline Flack saw an outpouring of grief and anger from the general public, and the catchphrase ‘Be Kind’ was in most people’s social media posts that weekend. Yet, within days, those who engage in the act of trolling were back on form. 

It must be difficult to have mental health problems in the public eye, where every action you make is paraded in front of millions. The pressure to be perfect…to be seen to have it all. To have the weight of being a role model to others heaped on your shoulders, whether you want it or not.  

Cuts to front line services, which have affected the provision of mental health services across the U.K. perhaps do not affect celebs, most of whom can afford to pay for private support, counsel and therapy. The average man, woman or child in the same situation, however, has to jump through a few hoops before getting the help they need. 

Let’s compare the pressures of Celebville to those of the average person 

The pressures the general public face will likely be different to that of an A-lister, but their feelings will still be the same.  

The pursuit to ‘have it all’, for the masses, may simply be the perpetual juggle between work, home and family life, keeping on top of everything, and being there for everyone else. And whilst the Average Joe may not have the paparazzi in their face, they may still feel like the entire world is watching their every move. Their family, their friends, their colleagues, their boss…even the person on the till at the supermarket – which can feel suffocating if they’re struggling. 

No one is immune to mental illness. The people that may look, from the outside, to have a wonderful life that seemingly carries plenty of opportunities and little hardship, may be going through something you could never imagine. Alternatively, there may no specific life event or trigger to link their struggles to; depression can strike at any time, and for no reason at all.  

Now, let’s move this topic into the workplace. 

How would you know if a colleague is struggling with their mental health? 

It may be hard to spot the following signs in a colleague, whilst you’re all going about your work in a shared office, factory or other workspace. If someone is depressed or they have poor mental health, it’s likely that they’ll display a combination of the following. And, whilst these symptoms are common, this list certainly isn’t exhaustive: 

  • Feeling sad for no reason 
  • Trouble sleeping or, alternatively, sleeping all the time 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Poor memory 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Detachment and withdrawal from regular activities 
  • Feeling ‘woolly-minded’ and finding it difficult to think clearly or to concentrate 
  • Mood swings 
  • Overthinking or worrying about inconsequential things 

What to do if a colleague displays signs of mental illness 

We’re sure that the last thing you’d want to do is make a situation worse for your workmate. Don’t dismiss or ignore their feelings, concentrate on being supportive and make sure they know that they can talk to you whenever they need to, and that they won’t be judged. To feel that you’re being truly listened to is a very powerful thing for anyone. 

Distraction can be welcome, if it’s positive and something that will make them smile – the last thing your colleague needs is to hear everyone else’s woes. Invite them for a walk outside at lunchtime, in a local park if possible; studies have shown how much of an impact the great outdoors and green spaces can have on a person’s mental health. 

It’s quite possible that your colleague’s normal workload may be proving too much for them if they’re battling with their mental health. Offer to take a task (or more) off their shoulders as a one-off, or on a temporary basis, so that they can concentrate on getting better.  

You may feel nervous talking to your colleague for fear of saying something ‘wrong’, or making the situation worse, but most sufferers will tell you that it’s better than sweeping the situation under the carpet, so to speak, and not acknowledging their issues at all. They’ll let you know if it’s a good time or a bad time to talk. 

Don’t do the work of the professionals 

Gently suggest making an appointment with a mental health practitioner, even go with them if they’re happy for you to do so. It’s important they receive the right advice from a trained counsellor, however tempting it might be for you to share your own opinions or thoughts on their situation. It’s not your responsibility to ‘fix’ your colleague or move them forward.  

Like to know more? You can find more information on this subject in my e-book, which is a pocket guide to managing mental health. It further outlines what you can do to support an individual who is experiencing mental ill health.