This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. It is also Learning at Work Week with the theme of ‘Shaping the Future.’ And if we want to shape a world free of mental health stigma, then learning is key.
Many us know some of the facts about mental health. That 1 in 4 of us will experience poor mental health in any one year. That suicide is the biggest killer of young men. We will all know too someone who is struggling with their mental health. Maybe ourselves. Maybe a family member. Maybe a celebrity as more and more well-known figures generously share their own story to inspire others.
Access to knowledge around mental health is crucial because it creates understanding, removes our misconceptions and reshapes our perceptions of the experience of mental health. It is important that we provide non-judgemental learning opportunities to share information within the workplace so people feel able to ask questions and raise concerns openly within a safe space.
Whilst the stats and facts themselves are powerful and impactful – who knew that 10% of men around the world suffer from post-natal depression – first person accounts are incredibly engaging. Which is why we respond when people like Prince Harry or Lady Gaga talk about their own struggles. In sharing their stories they are not just providing us with knowledge and information about what it’s like to experience a mental health condition, they are conveying ok’ness. If these people who we look up to, these role models, are publicly sharing their own battles then we can feel validated to do the same. And indeed, giving space to personal stories in the workplace – be they from internal or external voices – can help to shape a working environment that supports mental health. For example, a leader who takes the decision to share their own experience can have a profound effect on creating a culture of ‘ok-ness’.
A leader too who role models wellbeing will inspire people to do the same. Because part of our learning is about ourselves and our own mental health: what are our triggers, our stressors? What are the things that we can do to protect and maintain our mental health? The greater our understanding of ourselves, the better our ability to protect our mental health, and in doing so, inspire others to do the same.
Through learning, access to information, and practice, we can also become confident to have conversations about mental health with each other. This confidence can also be supported by communications and engagement and cultural and organisational activities – making wellbeing part of 121s, for example – which empower people to talk.
And talking is how we continue to learn. Because when we talk about mental health with each other we gain greater insight into mental health. The more that we talk – and keep talking – the more confidently knowledgeable we become and the more progress we can make towards shaping a stigma-free world.