Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: It’s OK not to be OK

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, it seemed appropriate for me to write this blog.  I do so from a personal perspective – as I have done in previous years, and in a few earlier blogs, I have touched on the fact that I am among the many who are dealing with and/or have had to deal with a mental health challenge. Depression is something I have had to learn to live with.  Thankfully today there is much more openness around wellbeing and mental health, and better support as well.  However, there is still some way to go. I suspect that in various workplaces, for example, stigma still exists. Or, perhaps there is not enough in the way of recognition that our mental health is as important, and requires the same sort of understanding, as our physical and physiological health.

The COVID-19 crisis, and lockdown measures that have been applied across the world, without doubt have implications for wellbeing and mental health.  Like coronavirus itself, these seem set to be with us for some considerable time.

I am lucky.  I live in a house where each of those living in it has space, and we have a garden.  We also live in an area where we have lovely open hills, and woodland and riverside walks, very close by.  Rarely have I felt so glad that, long ago, I decided to stay here and commute rather than move closer to London where I have worked there past 19 years or so….  The daily walk has proved a godsend.

However, I do have ‘down’ days or times where I get anxious – for no clear reason.  Over the years I have learned to recognise the signs, and then to take certain steps to help myself.  Getting outside, as it happens, for me has always played a strong part in this.  I suspect I would have struggled far, far more had I had to stay within my domestic four walls as well as stay apart from people they love and care for. I feel greatly for anyone who has been, and/or still is, in that position.

Some time back within London Higher we moved to a flexible working policy which included actively encouraging colleagues to work from home for some of their workdays. Our move to remote working took place very smoothly, and I have been very impressed with how everyone has managed this. Together we have not only kept the business functioning, but working very well.  Even I managed to move fast from being a Teams and Zoom rookie to someone now relatively competent.  Although I have found that working on a screen all day, every day has a downside in that it is a very intense way or operating.  Headaches have been more frequent, I have noticed.  Making a point of getting away from the screen and keyboard and scheduling that time if needs be in is very important.  At London Higher we currently encourage all staff to take a ‘wellbeing hour’ during the working day. I believe this has helped us to work effectively – and I should add without falling short in terms of standards or outputs

It is so very important that to end all the stigma around mental health.  It is indeed OK not to be OK, – and it is also OK to be open about that, and to ask for support.  Mental health issues can and do affect anyone – no matter who they are, where they are, what age, what they do and, in the workplace, where are might be on the career ladder.  We can all do our little bit, as we all strive to move forward from the pandemic, to be more aware of how other people really are.  Finding and encouraging #Timetotalk is if anything more important as a message today as it has ever been.

For further information about mental health and wellbeing awareness, please follow the links below.