Many of us faced concerns and anxieties throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, about how we live our lives and in particular, how our control over when and where we work seems to be diminishing. Looking after our mental and physical health and wellbeing at work has never been more important.
Public ignorance to mental health and wellbeing
In January 1999, then Aston Villa manager John Gregory responded to questions about £7 million record signing Stan Collymore by saying, "Stress has always been around, but I thought it relates more to a 29-year-old at Rochdale with a mortgage and three children who had only three months left on his contract. I wonder what someone like him is making of all this."
A quick scan of Collymore’s Twitter posts show that, to this day, he still suffers. However, he now has more knowledge and feels far more comfortable using his social media platform to talk openly about his anxieties. He appears to have figured out a way to control it, in particular, through physical activity.
Mental health and wellbeing shows no discrimination
Fast forward 20 years, to December 2019 and Jesse Lingard, Manchester United’s England international revealed how stress took its toll on his mental health. His performances on the pitch were affected after caring for his siblings when his mother fell ill. The difference? Lingard felt comfortable enough to knock on his manager’s door and talk about it.
Only recently, eighteen-year-old US Open tennis champion, Emma Raducana, withdrew from her fourth-round clash at Wimbledon this summer, after suffering breathing difficulties. The difference? Raducanu felt comfortable enough to talk to the world’s media about the psychological stress of performing.
With the exception of outspoken TV personality, Piers Morgan, Raducanu received sympathy and understanding from fans and celebrities around the globe. She even received reassurance from Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who admitted to a similar experience as a teenager.
Today, a quick Google search will reveal that 2021 has seen high profile sports stars such as tennis player Naomi Osaka, US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, England cricketer Ben Stokes and British swimming sensation, Adam Peaty all step back from their sport to protect their mental health. Even England defender, Tyrone Mings, revealed he struggled with his mental health ahead of England’s Euro 2020 opener with Croatia.
Mental health and wellbeing – an acceptable talking point
Sporting superstars - millionaires who it seems, simply have to eat what they’re told to eat, drink what they’re told to drink and sleep when they’re told to sleep, are now the public faces making mental wellbeing a common discussion point whilst having a pint with your mates.
That said, just how many of those discussing these sports stars' issues can relate to how these celebrities feel? How many take another sip of lager to mask the awkwardness of feeling the same way, day in day out? How many simply wish they too could knock on their boss’s door?
What is mental health and wellbeing?
According to the World Health Organization, "Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."
MIND, the mental health charity, says mental wellbeing doesn't have one set meaning. We might use it to talk about how we feel, how well we're coping with daily life, or what feels possible at the moment.
Good mental wellbeing doesn't mean you're always happy or unaffected by your experiences, but poor mental wellbeing can make it more difficult to cope with daily life.
How can employers help?
Unlike in 1999, when John Gregory made that comment, back to Google again and another search can unearth a plethora of resources available for employers.
Sunday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and as the Mental Health Foundation states, prevention is at the heart of what we do. Mental health statistics suggest that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. Ultimately, better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.
Employers can support their own by encouraging colleagues to talk about mental health. It is important not to make assumptions, but provide reassurance. This is a vital first step.
Don’t overcomplicate things, provide help for managers to support their colleagues. Listen to co-workers' concerns and communicate honestly, clearly and regularly.
Whatever normality will be post-COVID-19, can employers afford not to address mental wellbeing at work?
Mental health shows no discrimination and can affect anyone at any time, but unlike 20 years ago, there is more help and advice available than ever before. Please don't be afraid to talk.
More information, help and advice can be found at: