There is a post doing the rounds that says male suicides are outnumbering deaths caused by Covid-19. When fact-checking for this article, I found there to be no specific data to back-up that claim – though in 2018 and 2019, an average of more than 100 people a week died by suicide in the UK, meaning the claim may well have been true for much of the summer. But either way, none of us can avoid the fact that the events of this year, from lockdowns, to hate crimes, and a general fear for the future, will have taken an extensive toll on people's mental health. With more than two-thirds of adults in the UK reporting feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect Covid-19 is having on their life, and 56% feeling stressed or anxious, it is more important than ever for us to talk and share our experiences this World Mental Health Day (tomorrow, 10 October).
It is refreshing to see how attitudes have evolved over the years when it comes to being open about mental health. It's still very much a generational "thing"; when I told my mum I was writing this article, her response was "don't let your company think you are nuts and fire you". Luckily I don't think that will be the case, but with Mind reporting a 20% increase in people with common mental health problems between 1993 and 2014 – but only one in eight getting any treatment – we all must start to talk more, understand what others are going through, support each other through treatments and recoveries, and learn to show more empathy.
So, what is my story and the advice I can share? After a long journey, I am comfortable(ish) to describe myself as agoraphobic. In terms of commonality, it is said that in the UK, up to two people in every 100 have a panic disorder with around a third of those developing agoraphobia. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't just mean a fear of open spaces but is defined by the NHS as “a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or that help wouldn't be available if things go wrong. Symptoms: Panic attack.”
Fear ruled my twenties. I couldn’t stand in a queue or on a crowded train without feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I was going to faint or have a heart-attack. I would sit near the door if I had to go out, but where possible I avoided going to restaurants, cinemas, theatres and pretty much became a recluse.
The doctors offered me antidepressants to “stop worrying about it”, which I knew wasn’t the right course of action for me, so as I reached my thirties, I sought out alternative therapies.
I met two people who changed my life.
The first, Adrian Greene, is founder and MD of Pressure Point. Adrian was a life coach at my company and worked with me to break down my fear factor from one million to one. He would calmly ask "and then what", over and over as I broke down scenarios from feeling trapped and literally dying, through to being embarrassed but surviving.
So, my first piece of advice is to find that person who helps you take your fear from one million to one. Avoidance and enabling are crippling, and I know it's easy to say "face your fear", but as someone who has, I promise you, it does help, and it does get easier.
The second person is hypnotherapist Tim Smale. From his extensive experience, Tim recognised my anxiety and thought patterns within minutes, and he worked with me to switch my brain patterns, change my way of thinking, and to squash those "what if" doubts.
I am now at a stage in my life where I am kind to myself. I recognise triggers, I acknowledge that fear is needed to be able to perform, but after giving 10 years of my life to it, I won't let it control me any more.
I am no expert, and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for everyone. Still, I am writing this to encourage you to explore options, seek help, never sit and suffer in silence and never ever feel like something is broken inside of you. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. There are so many treatment options, from cognitive behavioural therapy, to hypnotherapy, clinical medicines, exercising, painting and so many more ways to develop coping mechanisms, so don’t feel that if the first thing you try doesn’t work, you are lost.
I have been blessed to work for companies who have always supported wellbeing, offered solutions, support and time needed to attend appointments and I couldn’t stress the importance of this more. By supporting your employees, you are helping them be their authentic selves, building trust and ultimately enabling them to be the best they can be.
At OMD, we have dedicated this week to sharing stories, resources and guidance, to educate people on the importance of wellbeing. Kickstarting this with a panel session from experts on how to manage anxiety, how to help with sleep quality, and the importance of taking the time to look after yourself, the message has truly been shared that mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing, and should be treated as such. We worked hard to upskill several new Mental Health First-Aiders, have been sharing daily tips from Mind, free resources such as Sleepio and Calm, and nutrition and yoga advice and classes. We have also been hosting daily financial and health clinics for employees to dial into every day this week, as we know financial and physical health concerns can also affect your mental wellbeing.
We are also proud of our OMD Voices series, a platform we are giving our employees to share their stories of achievements, challenges they have overcome, and advice for anyone facing a similar situation.
My virtual door is always open for anyone who wants to talk. If I can offer any help, guidance, or support, I pledge to always be here for anyone who needs it.
Vicky Bloyce is executive director, communications and marketing at OMD EMEA. She is lead at OMD Red, OMD EMEA’s diversity, inclusion and belonging steering group, and is a trained mental health first aider
Photo: Westend61 (Getty Images)