Breaking the stigma around mental health in the workplace

02 Jun 2017

Geoff McDonald, Executive Director at Open Minds Health, talks about his life-changing battle with depression and how he’s using his personal experiences to help businesses break the stigma around mental health in the workplace.  

I’m passionate about bringing change to organisations regards mental wellbeing. Why? Let me take you back to midnight on 25 January 2008.

I was 20 years into a career with Unilever when I suddenly had a panic attack. It came totally out of the blue. The following day, my doctor diagnosed me with depression.

At that point, I made a decision that I believe saved my life. I decided to be open with my loved ones, friends and colleagues and to not be burdened by the stigma.

It wasn’t easy and I was worried people would think I was weak and unable to do my job, but the response I had was amazing. I was lucky in that I got all the support I needed to get better, but not everyone has the same experience as I did.

A good friend of mine took his own life in October 2012. He had a loving wife, three beautiful children and a job in the City. None of us saw it coming because he hid his feelings so well. I believe the stigma of depression killed my friend.

From that moment I pledged to help break the stigma around mental health in the workplace to ensure others who may be suffering in silence receive the support they need. My initial focus was on helping friends and colleagues at Unilever, and I’ve been working with other organisations to do the same since stepping down from Unilever in 2014.

I love running and it was great to see the Heads Together campaign was the Charity of the Year for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon in April. It really helped to bring mental health into the public’s consciousness in the UK and provides a platform to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.

In Britain alone, an estimated 11.7 million working days were lost last year due to ill health. It is an issue, however, affecting businesses the world over. I believe, however, that organisations can address this issue by making wellbeing truly stick within their day-to-day operations.

What is critical if this is to be achieved is support from senior leaders. I know more and more CEOs who are supporting this drive to break mental health stigma. Many have been touched by mental illness - either themselves or someone they know - and have provided the most wonderful care and support to those suffering. But many aren’t used to showing the same levels of empathy at work that they do at home.

There is a strong business case for grappling with the issue of mental wellbeing at work. It can reduce costs, enhance productivity and make for an all-round more success business. Most importantly, it can help people at their lowest ebb see a way out of the darkness.

Geoff will be giving a keynote presentation at IOSH 2017 which will take place at the ICC, in Birmingham, UK, on 20-21 November 2017. Hear more from Geoff and others at this year’s event. Book your ticket now.

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Recent Comments

  • MRS E BEVAN
    As a clinical OH practitioner I am constantly amazed by employers wish to sweep Mental Ill health issues under the carpet and label the employee as 'difficult'. Structured phased return to work plan, adjusted duties, mentoring and supportive management all help to reduce illness timescales and expedite recovery.

  • Gerry Moloney
    Well done Geoff Great to see people stepping up and taking a lead on this issue to help and support others.

by Gerry Moloney
06/06/2017 03:13:35 PM

Well done Geoff Great to see people stepping up and taking a lead on this issue to help and support others.

by MRS E BEVAN
06/10/2017 02:56:46 PM

As a clinical OH practitioner I am constantly amazed by employers wish to sweep Mental Ill health issues under the carpet and label the employee as 'difficult'. Structured phased return to work plan, adjusted duties, mentoring and supportive management all help to reduce illness timescales and expedite recovery.

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