By Emma Bragg

Each year 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem(1) and evidence suggests that as many as 12.7% of UK sick days are as a result of mental health conditions(2). Yet, despite its prevalence and the recurring media campaigns, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness.

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, the aim being to raise awareness of mental health problems and inspire action. As the statistics show, mental illness is widespread and can impact anyone but the fear of judgement often means it’s a topic that goes unspoken. 

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I was 24 years old when I was hospitalised after a suicide attempt. This wasn’t my first experience of mental illness but it was the worst and some weeks later I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s not an easy label to wear and it has dogged me through both my personal life and career. But then no mental illness is.

There seems to be a view that illness is a sign of weakness and this is even more the case in mental illness. It has only been in recent years I’ve come to be quite open about my own illness and this wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s the result of not only being accepted and supported by the people I speak to but by the surprising number who then responded by telling me of their own experience with mental illness.

I am relieved that we are finally at a time where more is being said about mental health and that thankfully the stigma is not at the level it was years ago but there is still a long way to go. Any illness is an exceptionally personal topic but it should never be taboo or stigmatised to the level that it makes the illness worse or prevents a person seeking help. 

Preventative Medicine

One of the most positive changes in recent years has been the focus upon mental health in the workplace and this has been championed by organisations such as Time to Change which, as part of Time To Talk Day in February, proactively encouraged open conversations in the workplace on the topic of mental illness.

At Merkle we ran an informal “cake and chat” session as part of Time To Talk and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. People not only want to feel supported they want to feel empowered to support colleagues, whether that’s from training or in having the resources available to refer someone to.

Better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses on the whole up to £7.9 billion(3), and that’s just the cost of absenteeism. Research shows that the return on investment for proactive interventions by employees can range up to 6:1(4).

Google is one such company who is taking staff wellbeing seriously by implementing the availability of the mindfulness and meditation app Headspace for all their employees. A Headspace-led study found that using the app for 10 days resulted in an 11% decrease in stress levels, and a 32% decrease after 30 days.

Of course, there isn’t just ‘one way’ to tackle mental illness and an app like Headspace is not going to be for everyone, but giving people the tools to seek support without judgement is the absolute minimum we should all be striving for.

In the past I have been called brave after speaking out about my mental health but I don’t believe that’s the case at all. It’s a personal choice and speaking out helps me. I know I will always struggle with my own illness but I am surrounded by people who continue to be understanding and supportive. 

The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that it's ok not to be ok.

(1) McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.

(2) ONS. (2014). Full Report: Sickness Absence on the Labour Market, February 2014. Retrieved from webarchive. [Accessed 28/07/16].

(3) Deloitte UK – Mental Health and Employers – The Case for Investment (Oct 2017)

(4) Deloitte UK – Mental Health and Employers – The Case for Investment (Oct 2017)

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