The sensitivity surrounding ‘opening up’ to mental health

The volume of conversation and focus surrounding mental health and wellbeing in the UK is heart-warming. It’s on everyone’s lips following the work and campaigning of a great number of amazing people, including; mental health champions, charities, the Royal Family, celebrities, politicians and business leaders.

The predominant interest from businesses and HR at present is for holding employee ‘lunch and learn’ meetings and short internal seminars, introducing attendees to mental health education, personal and colleague symptom awareness and intimate personal story telling, all aimed at breaking down stigma, normalising the conversation in the work environment and equipping employees and leaders to understand and recognise when mental health challenges surface.

The ultimate objective is for people to be able to bring their whole selves to work, speak about how they are feeling, and recognise that it is their differences that make them who they are and give them their skills and capabilities to deliver the contribution they make to the company cause. For businesses, it’s about doing the right thing and impacting positively on employee engagement, productivity and brand value.

As with an individual ‘opening up’ about their intimate mental health experience, organisations need to recognise just how big a step this is and the responsibility they have to protect and support those that do as a result of their educational and awareness raising activities.

As an example, at every talk I have delivered, no less than three people have come up to me afterwards and ‘opened up’ to me about their personal challenges. Naturally I advise them accordingly and many are now in regular contact with me because of my own intimate understanding, but there is an extremely important point here!

Before each talk I deliver I advise all of my clients that this above situation is not only possible, it is guaranteed. My talks are upbeat and celebratory as the alternative, which is discussing the facts and figures we all read in reports about the potential burden people with mental ill health are to corporates and UK Plc, is in my opinion counter intuitive to encouraging people to open up in the first place.

I take great care to advise everyone that people will ‘open up’ when you start to talk about mental health, illness and difference, because they have potentially hidden for years and want to ‘open up’ for a number of reasons, including therapeutic. I also go to great lengths to surround talks with a clear company strategy, including what to do when people do seek further conversation, knowledge and support immediately afterwards, or of course at any stage afterwards.

This of course involves promoting the existing company support channels, like employee assistance programmes, mental first aiders, in-house psychotherapists, fully equipped and trained line management, specialist support providers etc., all of which need to be stakeholders in the end to end mental wellbeing strategy.

But there will be a majority of people with an interest in mental health that still won’t necessarily want to ‘open up’ any time soon, given the years of being personally closed to doing so and the fear that stigma, and its impact, still exists.

This is where channels like the Mental Difference at Work community, powered by the Rungway app add demonstrable value. It’s essentially an online community, accessed by mobile devices, where members can ask questions overtly and most importantly covertly. The latter is the secret sauce because it enables people to remain anonymous but still get access to answers to questions, knowledge and support, from other authentic members.

In addition, the Mental Health in Business LinkedIn Group is going from strength to strength as you can imagine. It’s a community for people to discuss and debate everything to do with mental health in the business environment.

So my underlying message is do target ‘opening up’ your organisation to mental health, illness and difference, but DO NOT rush into it. My business, APeopleBusiness, has a solution cleverly named ‘OpenUp’ which may look to most like a one or two hour group interaction, but this is in essence part of, and surrounded by, a minimum two day project, incorporating the strategy, risk, communication, format, delivery, outcome and support planning elements of an extremely sensitive event for both the delegates and the organisation.

People’s personal health, and I will go as far to say, lives are at stake, so please seek out authentic and experienced partners to support you with your delivery.

All the very best.



To join Mental Difference at Work, download Rungway from the App Store or Google Play, then email requesting access to the group.