A healthy approach
Mark Todd, chairman of the Commissioning Specialists Association, explains why BiPolar UK is his chosen charity for this year.
My wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 23 years old and I know how tough it can be being mentally unwell. I use the term ‘unwell’ as opposed to ‘ill’ because after years of living with someone who has episodes of psychological instability, I realise that it isn’t quite the same as other illnesses.
Mental health issues are not a disease: There is no pathogen; it can be congenital or acquired; there is no medical cure; no panacea. But there is management. She has had to learn to manage her condition and I only realised after years of trying to fix her somehow that it’s impossible. I can, however, help her manage better.
I chose to write about this particular subject this quarter as mental health and wellbeing are paramount to us all. We don’t have to wait for mental health day. It doesn’t matter who you are, being mentally unwell can strike anyone at any time. Depression and anxiety are the most common causes of mental distress which, left ignored and untreated, can develop into something more serious.
We all have periods of feeling stressed or sad, but when it impacts upon our day to day lives; work, home, socialising etc, it can be nigh on impossible to recognise it and do something about it. Its easy to try and man up or shake it off or just brush it under the rug, particularly for men who are programmed to keep it in, control ourselves and keep that stiff upper lip in the face of emotional adversity. That’s not to say women don’t suffer; but in a sector that includes a large proportion of male employees and colleagues, it’s something we need to be aware of.
Some simple observations that we can make about ourselves and others which may be indicators of burgeoning mental stress and ill health can include:
Fatigue and exhaustion leading to poor sleep
Eating significantly more or less than usual
Poor memory and attention span
Lack of motivation
Increased sense of worry/stress/anxiety
Less attention to personal hygiene and appearance
Feelings of shame, guilt, sadness which cannot be explained easily
What can be done about it:
Regular check ins with staff on their general health and well being
An ‘open door’ HR policy where staff feel able to ask for help and advice
Individual self care – monitoring your moods, outward appearance, and behaviours and then taking the time to look after any areas which may be lacking by eating well, hydrating yourself regularly, practicing good sleeping habits, using your non work time creatively, holistically, and regeneratively
Avoiding recreational drugs, limiting alcohol intake, and smoking cessation
Asking for help when you feel out of control or unable to cope
So what should we do? Firstly, we need to be open and alert to our own symptoms of depression, anxiety or other behavioural traits that are unusual to us. Listen to others who are close to you and allow them to monitor how you are getting on in times of stress.
Secondly, we must keep an eye open for signs of distress in others we work with; listen and observe, even for a few moments a day and you may be able to detect when a colleague is struggling with their emotional state. My wife always says, “There’s no cure for anxiety but action” and it’s true. It’s easy to descend into panic and irrationality if we are not tackling the causative issues of our stressors.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, give yourself and your colleagues a chance to breathe, assess, and act upon any difficulties that may be being experienced. Asking for advice or help is not shameful or weak, it is the stuff of leaders and winners, after all, we are fallible humans and a concerted joint effort is always more valuable than one floundering individual.
If you or someone you work with is unable to use any of the above, then it’s probably time to go and seek some professional aid. Many firms have occupational therapists, psychologists, or medical insurance plans available to their staff, and these resources are valuable. If you do not have access to these kinds of services, your local GP will be able to either refer you directly or sign-post you to the right channels to find help.
If self-referral is your only option, charities such as MIND are brilliant for accessing services without having to go via the GP. They will help you find the right kind of care and practitioners to get you back on your feet quickly and efficiently.
In my experience, people are far more sympathetic and empathetic than one may realise. How would you react to a work mate who came to you confessing that they were feeling terribly down and unable to carry on with their usual schedule? You wouldn’t ridicule them, you’d help them, right?
In my tenure as Chairman of the CSA, I have chosen BiPolar UK as the beneficiaries of our charitable efforts, for obvious reasons. The CSA will be raising awareness and desperately needed funds for this charity in order that they may carry on their invaluable work.