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Mental Health and the Finance Industry

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Matthew Langley mental health, finance, Finance Recruitment...

Mental Health and the Finance Industry

If you are an aficionado of the Alex cartoon in The Telegraph, you will know that the title character is an amoral, indeed immoral, and self-serving banker that is more than happy to exploit the weaknesses of his colleagues, bosses and clients. The world of finance is characterised thus, but, as all too many know, this conceals the some painful truth that many struggle, some severely, with their mental health.

While generally aware of the rise in talking more openly, some deeper research left me genuinely surprised. As reported by the site Mortgage Introducer in May this year, “the extent to which mental health issues are affecting employees in a variety of sectors is no less than astonishing (and) a recent report published by AdviserPlus, a leading HR consultancy, revealed that the financial service sector in the UK has the highest percentage of mental health-related employee absences of any sector. In fact, up to a third of all reported absences in the financial services sector are related to mental health.

This study was based on analysis of over a quarter of a million employees over the last six years. The conclusion, “that just under 34% of financial service sector absences were attributed to mental health issues during this time,” was the biggest eye-opener.

Without in any way being an expert, the way I have framed this is my own head is that there are possibly two aspects. Firstly, the awareness of mental health issues: do we truly know when people (including ourselves) are suffering? Secondly, there is the more sensitive question of attitudes to those that need support, both from themselves and their work colleagues.

As far as the latter is concerned, most would agree there is improvement. In June 2009, The Guardian reported that “Attitudes to mental illness are changing for the better but with some alarming exceptions, a new report out today claims … According to the report almost a third of 16-to 34-year-olds believe it is easy to distinguish people with a mental illness from "normal people" while 11% of the population confess to not wanting to live next door to a person they knew had a diagnosis.”

In my own career I can personally attest to the potential danger of the above. While working in Australia I found first-hand that knowing when a colleague was struggling, was nowhere near as easy as it sounds. Some of the highest-performers I knew, some friends, I later learned were also great at concealing their challenges, afraid they may be a burden. Thankfully regardless of this, I and the majority of those around me were supportive as possible when made aware.

By 2014, Mind, the Mental Health charity (see below) backed up my own experience, reporting the “greatest improvement in public attitudes to mental health in 20 years,” and then in 2017, the “Time to Change” campaign reported that since its launch in 2007, 4.1 million people “have improved attitudes.”

At the time of writing, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are to, “join forces with UK's first 24/7 mental health texting service.” Indeed, the younger royals are in the vanguard of the move to change attitudes and their involvement clearly helps bring awareness and interest.

Conversely individuals’ willingness to be open about any mental health issues appears to be improving. For years, if anyone displayed “signs and symptoms of mental weakness” they were made to feel, subtly or otherwise, that they may not be in the best condition to do their job. Consequently, mental health issues were hidden from management and colleagues alike. In recent years I have felt immense humility and admiration for those close to me that showed the courage to reach out.

At Cedar I have been lucky enough to know about the mental health charity Mind, our organisation being a long-time supporter. We asked them to give us some hints about what behaviours people should be aware of – both within themselves and amongst their colleagues, and how we should react. This is what they told us.

Is it easy to tell if a colleague is experiencing a mental health problem?

Line managers who know their staff and regularly hold catch-ups or supervision meetings to monitor work and wellbeing are well placed to spot any signs of stress or poor mental health at an early stage. Often this can cause a change in their typical behaviour.

Symptoms will vary, as each person’s experience of poor mental health is different, but there are some potential indicators to look out for, such as:

  • Changes in people’s behaviour or mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • Changes in their work output, motivation levels and focus
  • Struggling to make decisions, get organised and find solutions to problems
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed
  • Changes in eating habits or appetite
  • Increased smoking or drinking

However, if one or more of these signs is observed, this does not automatically mean the employee has a mental health problem – it could be a sign of another health issue or something else entirely. Always take care not to make assumptions or listen to third party gossip and talk to the person directly.

What is the No. 1 thing companies can do to support any of their staff who are experiencing a mental health problem?

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. Mental health, like physical health, can fluctuate on a spectrum from good to poor. Poor mental health can therefore affect any of us irrespective of age, personality or background. Mental health problems can appear as a result of experiences in both our personal and working lives – or they can just happen. Therefore, employers need to create an open culture where people feel able to talk about their mental health and ask for support when they need it.

With the above in mind its vital to let you know about the annual “Mental Health Awareness Week,” which next year will be from 18-24 May 2020. This key initiative will no doubt develop on this years’ theme that was “Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies,” demonstrating that mental health issues are all pervasive and cover many aspects of our lives, of which others may simply not be aware. 

How do I know if I’m experiencing mental health issues?

In many ways, mental health is just like physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it.

Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. But if you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.

Everyone’s experience of mental health is different and can change at different times. Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. You can find out more about mental health problems here.

What is the No. 1 thing you should do if you think you are experiencing mental health issues?

Seeking help is often the first step towards getting and staying well, but it can be hard to know how to start or where to turn to.

For many of us, our local GP practice is the first place we go when we are unwell. Your doctor is there to help you with your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s not always easy to start a conversation about your personal feelings with your GP – someone you may hardly know and it can be especially hard when you’re not feeling well. But it's usually the first step towards working out what kind of treatment and support might help you.

As well as your GP, there are other places you can turn to for support including friends, family, carers neighbours and trained therapists.

To wrap up this incredibly important subject, if you need support yourself know that there is always someone willing to listen. Do reach out if you need to talk.

To find out more about Mind please visit their website.

Matthew Langley, Cedar Recruitment