It’s almost 20 years since Stan Collymore announced he was suffering from depression and what a long way we have come in those two decades. At the time, Collymore was ridiculed for being depressed – how could a man earning so much money and idolised by so many feel down? But depression doesn’t discriminate; it knows no boundaries and it can affect all walks of life at any stage. Fortunately today we understand much more about the crippling effect that mental health issues can have – and also know that the best chance we have of helping people is to be open, honest and talk to each other.
I know from personal experience how problems can grow and fester if they are not dealt with early on. I lost my brother Daniel when he was just 15 years old and for my parents, the pain was indescribable. My mum sought comfort from those around her: counsellors, friends and priests. My dad took the opposite approach, keeping all his thoughts to himself which led him down a very dark path.
I think his inability to open up and share his troubles stemmed from his earlier football career, when the mentality was very much one of being macho. When I was a young girl, I represented Wales as a gymnast in the Commonwealth Games and competitions filled me with nerves. I spoke at length with a sport psychologist who gave me the tools to deal with my emotions and stop myself from feeling overwhelmed. When we lost Daniel, I understood the importance of talking to someone and that has remained with me over the years. The earlier you have that conversation, the better.
The stigma that surrounds mental health has to be quashed so that people don’t perceive it as a weakness. It is widely recognised that it’s just as important to have someone mentally fit in your team, as it is to have them physically fit. People associate sport with strength and ability, so it’s fantastic to see someone in that environment stand up and say they need help.
Every industry has its stresses and pressures and it’s important we are alert, aware and open in the workplace. One in five women has a mental disorder, while suicide is the biggest killer of young men because they feel they can’t discuss their problems. Too often people react with “what’s up with them?” if someone seems different or quiet, but we need to show compassion and sensitivity instead. Reassurance can go a long way when someone is struggling with anxiety or depression.
What we need to create is a culture in the workplace whereby people feel totally comfortable talking about mental health, knowing that it’s ok to do so and they will receive the support they need, rather than being judged or discriminated against. My father was finally able to speak to someone a few years back and it made him realise how valuable that would have been all those years ago. Regardless of age, sex, profession, sometimes we all need someone to talk to.
It’s vital that all industries put in place the tools to help people, and more importantly, that people know those tools are there and take advantage of them. By having these conversations, we can hopefully prevent worse events further down the line.
I joined Legal & General’s “Not a Red Card Offence” campaign to help take away the stigma and raise awareness of mental health. I recently hosted the insurers inaugural mental health event “Not a Red Card Forum” at Twickenham stadium, bringing together leaders from the businesses and sporting world to tackle the issue and learn from each other. It really demonstrated how far we’ve come and how much the conversation has moved on.
By sharing our experiences, I am confident we will be able to break down the stigma. Whether you are in the sporting or business world it’s all about teamwork, working together to tackle problems.