The Wright Angle – Mental health is an issue we cannot afford to ignore
Updated: May 11, 2021
Along with 14m other people, I was glued to the final episode of the BBC police drama, Line of Duty.
On social media, and in our office the next day, there was much discussion about whether this grand finale had been a bit of a disappointment. Many viewers were expecting fireworks and instead felt they got something a bit less dramatic, but I would suggest it was, perhaps, a more realistic ending?
For me, there was something quite compelling about how the show ended. Earlier in the episode, we had seen one of the main characters, a police officer called Steve Arnott struggling to talk to a police psychiatrist about his addiction to prescription painkillers.
At the end of the episode we saw a clip of the same psychiatrist and I think we expected to see Steve Arnott once again. However, the shot widened out to show his colleague, Kate Fleming, discussing how events had impacted her mental health.
Mental Health Awareness Week has come around again and it seems timely to focus on a topic that is certainly discussed a lot more than it used to be, but still one that still presents a huge challenge for businesses across the Liverpool city region.
Photo Credit: World Productions
What struck me about that final scene in Line of Duty was the revelation that a character who was so strong (Kate came within a whisker of being shot dead in an earlier episode) and seemingly able to shrug off the dramatic events with a drink in a pub, was reaching out and saying: “I’m vulnerable and I need some extra support”.
It made me think of the past 12 months and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all in a myriad of different ways. There has been a particular focus on the heroes of the year – the medics and those people who had gone out of their way to make a difference in what were extraordinary circumstances.
The pandemic put huge pressures on businesses and the people who run them and work in them. Organisations have had to rethink their day to day logistics, particularly with so many people working from home.
Across all sectors people have demonstrated awe-inspiring levels of imagination and resilience. Sometimes we don’t realise what we are capable of until we are really tested. However, that kind of effort and drive and lateral thinking can come at a price. And it is often when everything stops when you realise the toll it has taken.
In recent weeks I have attended a city-region wide event organised by the chief executive of St Helens Council Kath O’Dwyer where the subject of mental health was discussed. Often we think people are doing ok and getting on with things. But beneath the surface you don’t always know what is going on.
We are all aware of Mick Cullen, aka Speedo Mick, the full-of-life Scouser who walked from Lands End to John O’Groats and raised thousands of pounds for charity. We cheered for him and admired his determination.
But when his effort was over in February 2020 he found himself plunged into lockdown with the rest of us and he descended into a spiral of depression, cutting himself off from friends and family. Who knew? The answer is he did but initially he struggled to articulate his needs and ask for help.
In an interview with the BBC, he said: “I thought I was going to figure this out for myself. But you can’t think your way out of mental health. You have to ask for help. Eventually I spoke to my brother and told him ‘I’m in trouble’.”
An organisation or company may appear to be working well but it’s the people who make that happen and it pays to take a closer look. We have been getting calls from owner managers of companies in Knowsley who are reporting mental health issues among their staff and themselves.
They recognise there is a problem but they don’t know where to turn to for help and support. Larger organisations may already have support available via occupational health professionals but that is usually not the case for SMEs. They are not sure where to turn.
Added to that you have businesses that have very male-oriented teams and perhaps a bit of a macho culture. People working within that sort of environment may suffer in silence as they have a fear of appearing ‘weak’. There is simply no peer-to-peer support.
They may go under the radar for a period of time but, inevitably, things come to the surface and will manifest in ways that are destructive… depression, ill health, alcohol or drug misuse and, in some tragic cases, suicide.
It is estimated that in the UK 70m days are lost to mental illness every year, causing around 300,000 people to lose their jobs. The annual costs to employers could be as much as £42bn. Identifying and tackling mental health issues early isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also the right thing to do for your business.
And the overall message here is a positive one. There is help available. Here at the chamber we are well connected with a range of professionals and organisations who can offer the support that is needed.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we hosted a webinar called Ready to return to the workplace? – how to be a supportive leader and how to handle difficult conversations. It will focus on how people may have difficulties in resettling back into the workplace, or are having difficulties working from home.
Dozens of people joined us for this event which we held in partnership with Evolving Mindset and we would urge everyone to check out Mental Health Awareness Week activities. We are all part of a 24/7 culture now and not everything can be addressed during 9-5 hours. People may feel alone and isolated but we are here, ready and willing to help.