THE BLOG

All Workplaces Need To Become Safe Environments To Discuss Mental Health Issues

10/05/2017 16:14 BST | Updated 10/05/2017 16:14 BST
Colin McPherson via Getty Images

What we have unfortunately seen in the last week or so through Aaron Lennon's treatment for a stress-related illness is that nobody is immune to a mental health issue. Thankfully he's now getting the support he needs and the way that the football community has come around him has been a credit to the sport and those closest to him.

But what this also shows us is that there's no one industry more susceptible than another to mental health issues. Every industry has specific strains and stresses which may not apply to others and it's important that employers and industry leaders identify what those stresses are, take steps to mitigate that risk to their employees and provide support to those who do succumb to them.

The stigma which currently exists around talking about mental health in the workplace is preventing many people from getting the help they need, mainly because mental health issues might be viewed as a weakness or an inability to do their job as well as someone else. It's easy to see why many people aren't open about these issues if they think that their job could be on the line if they draw attention to themselves.

What we need to create is an environment and a culture within every workplace where it is OK to talk about mental health issues that you're suffering from, knowing that the support will be there for you should you take that step. I believe that if you let your employer know about your issue and that they in turn put things in place to enable you to work to your maximum in the workplace, everybody wins.

Creating that safe space environment, which might be at a location offsite or somewhere which is accessible and visible in the workplace, is vital for employees to have that timeout, touch base or be signposted onto the professional qualified services which they may need.

Legal & General's "Not a Red Card Offence" campaign is looking to raise awareness of mental health, increase understanding of how they can affect people and encourage more open discussion. Having been part of lots of different teams throughout my career I know just how important teamwork can be in all walks of life, and when addressing mental health issues, it's no different.

After seeing how football supported me in my journey, I realised that they only had the capacity to assist at 'crisis management' stage. After many conversations and meetings, the PFA introduced a network of counsellors to try and aid players when they're on the downslope with a problem, instead of when they reach disaster. This is something that we can implement individually too. I started a coffee club at Northampton Town. The boys really loved relaxing 'off-site', but with people who really understand their work pressures. We developed a genuine trust and camaraderie that saw us achieve greater things than we were ever expected too, getting to the play-off final at Wembley. Instigating conversations with our colleagues gives them permission and encouragement to share what's happening in their world, and who better to empathise than someone who is in that workspace with them?

Hopefully what we learn from Aaron's situation is that we shouldn't have to wait until crisis point to work with those people who need help. We need early intervention and prevention strategies in place; mechanisms to discuss issues before they become a significant problem and professional treatment is required. This would help to turn situations around before it is too late and show employees that there is a safe environment for them should they have the courage to speak out about their mental health.