Work is a community as well as a job
A view from Sue Unerman

Work is a community as well as a job

Someone in your team will have mental health problems. Would you reach out to them?

"Are you ok?"

Time to Talk day fell on 2 February. This is the day when charity Time to Change encouraged the nation to reach out to each other and take a moment to check in and make sure everyone is ok.

Don’t worry if you missed it – you can take the time to reach out today too.

This can be as simple as asking "are you ok?" although as one wise person pointed out to me there’s a world of difference between someone hastily assuring you that they’re "just fine" and people really being in a good state of mind. It isn’t just about asking the question it is also about really hearing the answer.

At the moment too many people with mental health problems feel undermined and worthless.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have the flu (especially man flu). If you break your leg you’ll get everyone’s sympathy.

All too often people find it embarrassing and shameful to tell their colleagues and their manager that they can’t cope with the anxiety from stress in the work or that they have been diagnosed with depression.

Yet one in four people will face this situation every year and 90% of those in that situation feel stigmatised.  If there’s a team around you at the moment, the likelihood is one of them is suffering right now. Do you know who it is and can you speak to them about it? It might really help,

MediaCom’s Inclusion network on 2 February was about mental health and overcoming the stigma surrounding it. The inspirational speakers included Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn.

Benjamin and Laybourn are award winning mental health campaigners who give talks at schools, colleges and workplaces throughout the UK. Their journey together began in January 2008 when Neil talked Jonny out of taking his own life.

Neil was on his way to work as usual, hurrying across Waterloo Bridge with hundreds of other commuters. He suddenly spotted someone, a complete stranger, perched on the edge. Most people were ignoring this and striding past, headphones on, head down, ignoring everyone, as you do on a London commute.

Perhaps Neil behaved differently because he’s not a real Londoner – he’d only just started commuting in from Hertfordshire.

Perhaps he behaved differently because he’s more of a hero than most. Neil stopped and asked Jonny if he was ok. Jonny was far from ok – he was contemplating jumping into the Thames.

Jonny had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression and was extremely unwell. He thought that he could hear the voice of the devil and that he was the subject of a real life Truman Show.

Neil’s interaction saved Jonny's life but the two were soon separated when the police intervened and took Jonny away to be sectioned. As Jonny recovered he set out to find the man who had saved his life, and their story was filmed in a Channel 4 documentary Find Mike (actually Neil, but that’s part of the story).

Hearing their story emphasises the importance that looking out for each other has in the workplace. Work is a community as well as a job. We care about each other, and taking a few seconds to show this can make a massive difference to someone who might be in trouble mentally and can’t find the words or the way to reach out to you.

Time to Change’s work has shown that people do not get the help they deserve and need, and are often left feeling isolated, ashamed and worthless. We take pride in being involved in their campaign to get everyone to open up to mental health, to talk about it and to listen to each other.

Jonny said mindfulness and resilience techniques had really helped him. If it’s you who's feeling anxious and stressed then one positive step is to explore this too.

Let’s find more time to talk. Techniques and workplace pledges are at http://www.time-to-change.org.uk.

Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer at MediaCom.
@sueu