Today is world mental health day. We shouldn’t need a designated ‘day’ to raise awareness of a problem that affects one-in-four of us, but mental health still isn’t talked about enough so I’m using today as an opportunity to remind people that the rest of the year it’s still a problem.
We’ve come a long way over the last decade. Mental health is less of a taboo subject, the charity Mind
says that stigma and discrimination is reducing, but frankly, it’s nowhere near enough.
There is still stigma attached – something far less likely to happen with physical illnesses even though most diseases are caused by the brain - the body doesn’t function on its own devices. The brain sends messages about glucose intake, for example, and that’s how you get diabetes, not because your liver made a conscious decision.
We need to take the stigma out of mental illness. People shouldn't be ashamed and I believe there is a role that businesses can play.
Companies, brands and corporate leaders are never top of mind when you think about mental health, but there is more of a link than you would think.
For a start, work-related stress can contribute to mental health problems – a third of men with poor mental health say work is responsible (Mind Survey
Business has to be better at addressing this. Adopting new ways of working, training managers, building employee resilience and raising awareness so that people can spot the signs, in themselves as well as others.
The less obvious opportunity that business offers is its relationship with consumers.
Through its customers, consumer facing businesses offer a wonderful opportunity. Whether it’s hundreds of high street shops, a mail out to thousands of people or a website that millions visit daily – businesses have the opportunity to help raise awareness, show they understand and take measures to tackle the stigma.
A great example is the work I’m doing with M&S to push forward my charity Frazzled Cafe
Frazzled Cafe meetings are ‘talk-in’ sessions where people who are feeling ‘frazzled’ can meet to talk. It’s not therapy, it’s a space to share personal stories in a safe, anonymous and non-judgmental environment. A place where “it’s ok, to not be ok”.
Currently running in a dozen M&S shops and with more to be added soon, they take place in M&S Cafés or Community Rooms after hours and are facilitated by trained volunteers.
Frazzled Cafe meetings are designed for anyone feeling frazzled or overwhelmed by the stresses of modern life.
Marks & Spencer has 32 million customers, over a thousand shops and 400 cafés.
It’s early days, we are busy recruiting facilitators and we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us. We won’t be in every single store, but what an opportunity the partnership offers to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.