World Mental Health Day
Some of you may recall I shared my own experiences of mental health on the IFoA website earlier this year. It prompted many conversations: some with strangers keen to share their own experiences; others with longstanding friends interested in having new discussions.
One thing that struck me was the variety of people affected. Just as people were surprised by my revelation, so I was surprised by what others told me. High-profile leaders in our industry told me about their private breakdowns; apparently resilient colleagues spoke of their own frailties. Others, like former IFoA President Fiona Morrison, talked openly about how mental health issues had affected those around them.
So, the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day of ‘Mental Health for All’ is highly appropriate.
It’s tempting to think of ‘mental health issues’ as referring only to medically diagnosed instances of depression and anxiety. But many of us can experience less acute mental health difficulties at some stage in our life, and these should not be dismissed. In some instances, these difficulties may have been brought on, or exacerbated, by Covid-19 and the associated restrictions.
In that context, being more conscious about how we manage our mental health is important. And the way we manage our physical health provides helpful parallels:
1. Look after your mental health even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition
We know poor physical fitness can potentially lead to medical conditions such as heart disease. Rather than wait for these to manifest, most people look after their physical health through exercise and diet. Investing in your mental health makes just as much sense.
2. If you are struggling, get help
When suffering from a physical problem, we usually seek medical help. By contrast, the stigma associated with mental health and the imprecise nature of the symptoms often prevent us seeking help. If you can overcome that reluctance, you will almost certainly benefit from sympathetic and practical help. Moreover, help is increasingly accessible, many employers now offer anonymous helplines, for example.
3. Be open-minded about what support you need
With a physical problem, most of us will accept medical advice to have surgery or take medication. Yet there’s sometimes a reluctance to accept support for mental health issues. I’ve used medication before and I still see a counsellor. Managing mental health can be hard; use whatever support is effective for you.
Above all, speak to someone if you think you need help, whether that’s a close friend or a professional. As JM Barrie encouraged us: “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” It’s a great aspiration to live by at all times, not just during a pandemic, and we shouldn’t forget to extend that kindness to ourselves.