I have four children in schools at the moment, from the ages of 6 to 15. Every one of them has weekly homework, even the 6-year-old. The pressure on the others to perform well in SATs, mocks, yearly tests etc. is ever mounting, and that’s not to mention actual GCSEs which my eldest will be undertaking this year. I am mindful of the impact this pressure could have on the their mental health, and of the impact our workplace pressure can have on our mental health.
What are we doing?
In the workplace, we are addicted to growth and ever-increasing performance. Now everyone wants to progress in their role, and do better, but the growth model seems to be fraying at the edges. What happens if the projected budgets don’t perform as they should for organisations? In my experience we simply reason that away with certain things being “abnormalities”, by making a bigger target next year, and putting more pressure on those already struggling to meet the targets they currently have. Are we trying to push in order to get the best out of people, or are we simply setting them up for failure?
Are we facing reality?
All of this pressure in education and in the workplace seems to be leading to an epidemic of mental illness. Everyone in their lives will be touched by this, whether as a sufferer or the friend of family of someone who is affected. Often both. Unfortunately, proactively looking after our mental health comes a sorry second to the need to perform and to be seen to be doing so, and proactive strategies are only usually used after someone has suffered a crisis: an exercise regime, eating and sleeping well, dealing with stress appropriately and reaching out when you need help are all part of the things we should all be doing all the time.
Are we proactively helping each other?
We can often see when a friend or colleague is struggling, but somehow we don’t speak up and we let that situation continue until crisis point. It can be a hard conversation to have with someone, but isn’t that better than regretting the fact that you never tried to say anything? So often a turning point in someone’s life (listen to any interview) is when someone was brave enough to say, “I’m worried about you, you need to think about what you’re doing”.
Where do you get help?
The statistics on research and the availability of help on the NHS are frankly not great. The fraction of money that goes into mental health research, despite it being a leading cause of death for people up to the age of 49, is vastly, vastly less than that for cancer, for example. Child and Adolescent Mental Health is in desperate need of more psychologists, clinicians and funding. But the Charities absolutely do exist if you need to reach out. Samaritans, Mind, Young Minds, Think Twice etc. But the very best first port of call is your local GP. Don’t wait to get help, and the NHS has launched ‘One You – Every Mind Matters’ – a collection of resources as a place to start online.
What can we all do?
Back to where I started, every business wants to perform well, whether that is for-profit or otherwise. But performing well doesn’t have to come at the expense of your mental health. Achieving a balance is absolutely key. After all, who actually thinks family should come second? I haven’t heard that used much as a phrase.
At Halpin, we try to encourage people to take their wellness seriously, and have made taking time out part of our away days. That might sound odd, but someone who has taken a bit of time for themselves then has more to contribute to others. We aren’t perfect, but we are consciously trying to do things differently.
So make space in your life to do the things you need to do in order to feel mentally well. Take some time, and get things in balance. If you are the one setting targets, make them so that they can actually be achieved, and with input from those who are subject to them. And please do reach out to those around you when you are suffering, and when you see others heading for a fall.
That’s what we can do.
Halpin can undertake a review of your workplace mental health or your provision for students – get in touch to find out more.
Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin, the home of experts in higher education and beyond