Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: Learning to Speak Out

The coronavirus pandemic has affected all corners of society by causing millions of deaths, a crumbling economy and altering all of our livelihoods in the process. 5% of the UK population were out of work in the last few months of 2020 (expected to rise to 6.8% in 2021), resulting in the number of people suffering with mental health issues exponentially increasing. Unsurprisingly, this has directly impacted a rise in those seeking mental health services.

According to the mental health charity Mind, more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people in the UK stated that their mental health has gotten worse during the first lockdown period (April to mid-May 2020). As well as this, nearly three quarters (73%) of those with pre-existing mental conditions such as eating disorders, PTSD or OCD said that their mental health condition worsened during the pandemic. Suicide rates are usually hard to predict due to the time it takes to register them, but researchers predict that these will also see a huge rise.

These alarming statistics highlight just how important mental wellbeing is, especially during an unprecedented time where so much is at risk. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place between 10th-16th May 2021, Strategic Consultancy Director of Nordens Chartered Accountants, Joe Sword, shares his insight on the current state of mental health, what more can be done and why the stigma around mental health still remains.

The State of Play

Currently, it’s fair to say that the world is experiencing an acute level of trauma and chaos. This quite obviously can lead to a rise in mental health suffering, as proven by the experiences of people suffering from regular traumatic situations such as abuse or war. One of the main causes of anxiety and depression during the pandemic has been financial worries. In May 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) stated that, ‘Anxiety levels were highest among an estimated 8.6 million people whose income fell’. With unemployment rates now considerably higher and are still expected to escalate, anxiety and depression is also anticipated to see a correlated increase.

Joe explains, “I know from my own experiences, getting something off my chest immediately calms me, despite the challenge of bringing myself to open up and speak up in the first place. When you do speak up, you quickly realise that there are a lot of people around you that actually want to help and support you. The mind is one of your (and probably your biggest), assets, so you need to look after it. Right now, we are all being pushed and challenged in ways we’d have never contemplated. For a lot of us this is in relation to finance and income, which of course heavily adds to the strain.” 

Truthfully, whilst regrowth is one of the major priorities of the UK government, the economy isn’t likely to return to pre-COVID levels for a few years at the least. This makes it assumable that despite the pandemic potentially ending soon with the mass vaccine rollout, mental health issues are still likely to persist for the foreseeable future. Joe goes on to say, “I feel like people are saying the right things and putting the right messages out there. As the population are taking positive steps, businesses and therefore people in general are more aware than ever of mental health and its impacts, but we cannot slow down once the pandemic comes to a close. We all need to keep pushing and encouraging people to speak up, making everyone feel as comfortable as possible when doing so. Whilst mental health has suffered drastically during the past year, the focus and spotlight on it has been beneficial and can only lead to more acknowledgment, acceptance and healing.”

Ways to Combat Negativity & Progress Positively

Encountering what relieves some of the stress can be a vital step in controlling your thoughts and emotions. It’s essential to take a step back and view life in a meditative and calm state which helps to provide focus and the tools to thrive. This can be done in many ways and finding the right thing for you can sometimes take a period of trial and error. Once discovered though, the results can be incredibly rewarding whilst providing a new lease of life.

Joe talks us through what exactly allows him to prosper, “Regular exercise and hydration are so important in my eyes. Something simple like going for a walk can help remove yourself from the work environment and is also proven to boost creativity. Exercise can aid both mind and body as does staying hydrated. I really notice when I have not had a drink for a while as I can feel the fatigue setting in. Going to sleep dehydrated also impacts your ability to wake up fresh, so it really is so vital for me that I stay on top of this. Having a few hobbies that I practice consistently also allows me to recharge and reenergise suitably. As I develop, I can see progression which is a really positive feeling.”

Compartmentalising your thoughts on paper has also been shown to increase productivity and a positive attitude. As Joe further explains, “I find it difficult to store too many things in my head at one time, so I write things down or add them to my to do list which instantly destresses me. I look to plan ahead as much as possible as it is another way of me remaining in control of the situation. A simple to do list often works for me, and I also have learned the benefit of working on the most urgent and important task first in the day when my mind is its most fresh. Reminding yourself of all the things you are thankful for and reflecting on past achievements can act as a really strong motivator, as well as looking forward to the new experiences that lie ahead. I love my holidays and getting the chance to see and experience new places, so one thing I regularly do is book (or at least plan for) my next holiday as early as possible. That way I have something to look forward to and an end goal, which can get you excited and positive just thinking about it. It may not be travelling for you, it could be something else, but there is a value in finding and having that thing to forward to.”

Breaking the Shame

Despite the countless campaigns to seek help if needed, there is still a huge stigma connected to mental health issues. This is very apparent in the male population where according to MentalHealth.org, ‘Three times as many men as women die by suicide whilst men are also less likely to access psychological therapies than women (only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men).’

These statistics highlight the age-old stereotype that men shouldn’t show feelings and must act strong and resilient. This is none more apparent than in business as Joe claims, “There is still an association with male business leaders to be seen as powerful people who can deal with any challenge or situation and not wilt under pressure or mental fatigue. Those who do struggle mentally at times are perhaps seen as weak and not worthy, which is obviously not the case. Anyone who says they do not have mental challenges are not being true to themselves.”

Furthermore, the information and education of mental health can often be inconsistent and patchy. The wide range of mental health issues often make it difficult to specifically diagnose someone with a definitive condition. Joe believes, “Aside from the misconceptions, the volatility around mental health and the way issues can manifest are often misunderstood. I really appreciate seeing people who have or have had mental health challenges share their experiences as they become relatable to others and it increases people’s understanding of the effects. Listening and understanding really are they keys that allow us to take meaningful action in the future.”

Improvement should be a priority in all aspects of public health and hopefully with the wider recognition of mental health awareness constantly growing, this will translate to a decrease of mental health sufferers and the stigma surrounding them. Talking and sharing insight is a huge step in the right direction and it promotes more awareness and conversation which can only bring about good.

If you’re experiencing any difficulties with your mental health, please don’t hesitate to contact those who can help. Here is a list of useful mental health charities which can offer you the support if needed.

Mind

Samaritans

Rethink

Sane

C.A.L.M.

We hope this has outlined some of the ways mental health impacts your professional business life and vice versa. If you’d like to know any further information on wellbeing and how Nordens can help, or anything accounting related for that matter, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at Nordens, where one of our trusted advisors would be happy talking you through your query.