From Ignorance to Understanding

Mental Health – From Ignorance to Understanding

For many and varied reasons, our society’s literacy around mental health is still pretty low. Thanks to initiatives and activism it’s gradually getting better but stigma, fear and judgement have all had their part to play in reinforcing ignorance.

Not many of us have learned about our mental health in the same way we learned about our physical health as we grew up. So, it’s quite easy to see why a lack of education can fuel that stigma, fear and judgement.

There is a huge gap between the ignorance that most of us feel and the expertise held by professionals such as psychiatrists, therapists and counsellors.

There is an understandable reluctance to move into that gap.

A lack of knowledge is often compounded by a lack of confidence, which both combine to result in a lack of action when poor mental health starts to rear its head; most of us don’t know what to do for the best despite the best intentions. We don’t want to make things worse by saying the wrong thing.

Ironically that inaction, whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, often leads to an increased likelihood of needing medical help.

That was my experience. A lack of knowledge in me, my colleagues and boss meant that a situation that could probably have been resolved relatively easily resulted in two or three years of worsening mental health and unemployment. Because of our collective ignorance and lack of confidence in handling awkward conversations, a situation that could have been handled as a team became complicated and required medical attention.

I don’t blame anyone; I think that situation is fairly common but such an awful waste.

The opposite of that collective ignorance – particularly in organisations – is a sense of shared responsibility where the organisation, its leaders and the individuals each play their part in being proactive and responsive when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

Confidence and knowledge around what to do can enable the early interventions that can be so helpful in protecting our mental health; the right conversation with the right person at the right time can have a hugely positive impact. But we need to have developed the understanding and permission to have those conversations.

Managers and leaders are well-placed to lead positive change in this area; they are the ones who will (or won’t) create environments where people feel like they can discuss challenges early on – whether it’s in their personal or professional lives. Gaining clarity on the role they can play in creating that environment will help in taking action

Building knowledge, confidence and understanding helps us as a society to close that gap between ignorance and expertise. It makes us better at being proactive in protecting the mental health of ourselves and others.

There is a huge gap between the ignorance that applies to many of us and the expertise – such as that of psychiatrists, therapists and counsellors – that is often needed to deal with the impact of inaction.

What’s the best way forward?

There can sometimes be resistance from managers when they are encouraged to engage with the mental health of their team. The basis of that resistance is an understandable nervousness that they may not be equipped for what follows.

What helps people – especially in leadership positions – to move into that gap?

Give people the resources, structure and permission to build the confidence. That’s what we have done with the Genesis programme to help more of us to move into that gap with confidence.

Written by: Olly Church, Co-Founder

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