In the UK, nearly one in seven people experience mental health problems in the workplace. That’s almost 15% of the workforce. So why is talking about mental health still such a taboo?
When we do talk about it in a workplace context, it’s frequently in relation to cost saving. The maths is simple: greater employee wellbeing equals fewer sick days. Fewer sick days equals more profit. With the Sainsburys Centre for Mental Health estimating that better mental health support in the workplace could save UK businesses up to £8 billion annually, on a commercial level, it’s no surprise that organisations are taking notice of their staff’s wellbeing.
But in our world of opinions and statistics, it’s easy to forget the people behind the figures.
Abbie Leonti is a Client Relationships extraordinaire. At work, she’s cool, calm and collected. But that’s a skill she’s had to hone, and the road hasn’t always been smooth. For 20 years, she saw her anxiety as weakness. Now, she sees it a reminder of her resilience.
She experienced her first panic attack at work in 2010. In 2012, her nephew was diagnosed with a rare metabolic disease that would see him in and out of Great Ormond Street for the rest of his life. Six months later, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Through it all, work was a constant. A positive place to pour her energy and focus her mind. But when a shock redundancy pulled the rug from under her feet in 2019, she knew she needed to refocus.
The kitchen became her therapy, and in 2020, she found temporary work in a local café. She took the time she needed to heal, trusting her gut and working out what she wanted from her next career move. In 2022, she made the leap. Getting back into the corporate world after a challenging couple of years was nerve wracking, and her anxiety was never far away, but Abbie did what she’s always done –
persevered in the face of adversity.
She calls it her inner strength. But it has many names. Resilience. Spirit. Drive. Pure, simple, humanity. See, Abbie is extraordinary. But she’s not alone. Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men.
- Imposter syndrome
- Old-boys networks
- Unequal pay
- Good old-fashioned sexism
the workplace can be particularly challenging for women, and that’s before you add mental health struggles to the pile.
The stigma surrounding mental health would have us believe that acknowledging that you’re struggling is equivalent to admitting a shortcoming. But resenting the parts of us that make us human only hurts us further. When workloads are mounting and deadlines are looming, we’d all like to be able to turn off the parts of us that tell us to stop.
But we’re not robots. And safeguarding our mental health doesn’t make us any less capable.
Fundamentally, Abbie is still a boss. Her anxiety, the challenges she’s overcome and the time she spent away from the corporate world haven’t made her less of a force to be reckoned with. If anything, they’ve made her stronger.
Open, honest dialogue can only improve the ways we view mental health. So let’s talk about it. Let’s challenge the stigma head on. Let’s admit, every once in a while, that we’re all human.
Let’s advocate for our colleagues – and for ourselves – and stop treating mental wellbeing like a cost saving exercise.