Let’s imagine, for a moment, shall we…
You’re in one of the most important job roles in the country. You’ve been aware, for the whole of your career, that your every action is being watched, scrutinized, and any inappropriate behavior will have a huge impact on not only you in your role, but the people around you, and the public’s view of the organisation as a whole.
You and your colleagues are responsible for taking part in 3,200 work engagements a year – engagements that require travelling, presenting yourselves in the most groomed, professional way, and often speaking or presenting something and then receiving any backlash to that.
On top of this, your Mother died when you were twelve years old, and, largely because of the role that you are in, the public image that you have to uphold, and the expectations that they have on yourself and your colleagues, you have not had the opportunity to process this, or grieve properly. Twenty years later, you have found that this has had a huge detrimental effect on your mental health.
You married a girl that you love, but since this time, you have found that the very people who have held these high expectations of you for your entire career have not taken well to the woman that you are spending the rest of your life with. You have seen her mental health and her ability to deal with this constant hounding take a dent, and you are having to watch her deal with criticism every day.
As it stands, you, your family, your children and their children will be expected to remain in this role and this position for their entire lives.
Regardless of what you think about Meghan and Harry, and the decisions that they have made in the last few weeks – why, if this was anyone else, would we want somebody to stay in a job role that is detrimental to their health? And yes, in 2020, we count mental health in that.
These two humans are wanting to change their job roles – that’s what this entire conversation is about.
1 in 6 people in the UK experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%, and women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men.
89% of workers with mental health problems report an impact on their working life: what’s more, nearly half of those respondents said that they have considered resigning from a job because it impacted their mental health.
The same survey found that only 13% of employees would be comfortable talking about their mental health at work: when asked to select from a list of issues they felt they could discuss at work, 36% said they would talk openly about a physical health matter, 26% about money and 18% about sex – while just 13% selected mental illness. There is still a massive stigma around the topic of mental health.
95% of employees have called in sick with stress, while giving a different reason.
It’s not a new problem, and it’s not an issue that is going anywhere quickly.
Harry has spoken a lot about his mental health over the years, and how the death of his Mum at such a young age, and constantly being in the spotlight has had a detrimental effect. In one interview, he said:
“It was 20 years of not thinking about it, and the 2 years of total chaos”.
“I can safely say that losing my Mum at the age of 12 and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a serious effect on not only my personal life, but my work as well”.
What can we learn from Meghan and Harry?
It is valid if your work or circumstances are having a negative impact on your mental health.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t do your job, it doesn’t make you weak and it’s not a failure. It’s just OK to recognize when things are tough, and to take measures to either look after yourself in that, or to change your circumstances.
Sometimes there are stresses and strains that are unavoidable as part of a working life – but this, I think, is why the conversation around self-care has grown so much in the recent years. Self care isn’t just about having a bubble bath – it’s about doing what you need to do to find rest, restoration and to allow your brain to switch off.
For me, that means giving myself time to watch Netflix with zero guilt, and without feeling that I need to be doing something else. It means getting fresh air at some point in my day, because I know that that is so good for my brain. It means protecting Saturdays with my life, pottering downstairs and making pancakes in my pyjamas.
It is totally okay to shift a work or life circumstance that is detrimental to your mental health.
Only you know what this looks like for you: but I know that if a role was having an impact on our physical health, we would be pretty quick to make changes – and the same needs to be true of our mental health.
You are not stuck, ever. Have the tough conversation, let things change that need to change. Ask for help. Reduce days, take on hobbies, take sick days when you need to, and put your health and your sustainability first.
The conversation is important: let’s talk about mental health.
In a filmed conversation around mental health and his grief around his Mother’s death, Harry said this: “I always thought – “what’s the point in talking about that, what’s the point in bringing up the past, and things that will only make you sad? It’s not going to fix it, and it’s not going to bring her back”. And when you think like that, it can be really damaging. You [Will] always said to me that you’ve got to sit down and think about those memories – but for me, I just didn’t want to talk about it”.
And in another interview: “I’ve probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions and everything come at you from every angle”.
In my experience grief, pain and anxiety that is bottled up and never talked about is the kind that explodes when it all gets too much to bear. It’s 2020 – the world is beginning to be able to cope with the discussion around mental health – and our lives are far too valuable to waste them on the paralysis that comes from the grin and bear it attitude.
Talk about it. Ask your friends how they’re doing. Let people in, and make changes where you need to. Ask questions of your workplace. Challenge assumptions that are made. It’s okay.