Having worked in the field of mental health for over 20 years, I sometimes forget the stigma that still exists around this area. I was at a social event recently and was seated next to a man I had not met before; a successful businessman. I was telling him about my work around employee wellbeing, and the struggle it was sometimes to get organizations to engage with this work. He replied “Well, I would just try not to hire those people in the first place”. I was dumbfounded! His reference to “those people” highlighted the view of mental health problems as something particular to a group of people, different to ourselves, which ultimately reinforces a sense of fear and ‘otherness’.
Mental health issues can effect us all
In reality, mental health, like physical health, is on a spectrum, from good to poor, which fluctuates over time. Just because you have not suffered from a mental health problem thus far in life, does not mean this will not be something that will affect you later. Of course, there is a lot of research highlighting the importance of ‘resilience’ in being able to weather the storms of day to day life. But we never know what life will throw at us and how we are going to respond.
Being a psychologist does not protect me from mental health issues either. I have experienced acute reactions to work-related stress and experienced the occasional panic attack. Being a psychologist probably helped me to stop these becoming long-term problems, but it did not make me exempt from situations that challenged my mental wellbeing.
We have of course come a long way in mental health awareness and reducing the stigma. But this one comment that night reminded me of how far we still have to go; to ensure that it is just as ok to talk about our anxiety or low mood, as it is to talk about a headache or diabetes.