There is no universal formula for being a leader, but every good leader should be a role model. This couldn’t be truer in the conversation about mental health.
The facts don’t lie: one in four people suffer from poor mental health each year. Looking to the world of business, if you’re leading a team of 40, that means 10 of those people will experience poor mental health.
Take the same statistic and apply it to a company of 1,000, and you can see how important it is for business leaders to take action.
When we view mental health in a workplace context, the real problems arise when we don’t build an environment where our employees feel comfortable talking about their mental wellbeing. But this openness will only become a reality when those at the top start to talk about their own mental health – the good, the bad, and the in-between.
It’s important to acknowledge that mental health is relevant to all of us – it’s a continuum, and we may well find ourselves on different points of this continuum throughout our lives. But a leader who sits atop a company, tight-lipped and stoic in the face of their own mental health struggles will only breed this mentality throughout the entire business.
It’s crucial that we challenge long-held beliefs about what leadership looks like. Showing vulnerability is not necessarily showing weakness – especially when it comes to mental health.
A leader who demonstrates that they trust those around them enough to be open about their own mental health will inspire others to do the same. And in doing this, you will build a workforce that supports each other, rather than one that judges, shuns, and shames.
Too often, business leaders look for quick fixes, such as daily yoga or early finishes on a Friday. But these benefits fail to address the real issues.
At our company, we went down a different route. In an industry as high-pressure and fast-paced as media,
we knew that the need for a strategic and meaningful approach to mental health was particularly important, which is why we now have an allies programme. We have trained 120 people to be on hand when others are seeking help for mental health issues.
Even the simple decision to make the programme a reality has transformed the perception of mental health within the agency.
For leaders to show that they are truly committed to changing how they approach the mental health of their employees, they must first acknowledge that change starts at the top.
For me, this has meant opening up about my own experience. I consider myself to be mentally healthy much of the time, but I’m not ashamed to admit I have struggled.
I hope that by being honest and open about my own experiences, I can help others do the same.
As business leaders, we must stand together and take responsibility for improving beliefs, behaviours and attitudes. Our employees dedicate a huge portion of their lives to our organisations. We owe it to them to step up and commit ourselves to improving things for them.
No one chooses to have a mental health problem, but business leaders have a choice to help.