The event opened with a moving video from RSA in which individuals shared their experience of mental wellbeing during the global pandemic. The message was clear: mental health has affected all of us in one way or another over the past few months.
RSA’s Chief Claims Officer Karl Helgeson then took to the virtual floor and contextualised the conversation around mental health. Uncertainty, isolation and lack of structure which came as a result of COVID-19 have exasperated the issue of mental health. Karl highlighted that 10% of adults in the UK reported feeling lonely prior to the pandemic but this figure had increased to 24% just two weeks into lockdown.
Karl was then joined by the panel featuring Charles Alberts, Head of Health Management at AON, Richard Martin, director at Byrne Dean and Mindful Business Charter leader, and Vicky Lefevre, Head of Talent at Argo Group. All panellists drew attention to the positive role the pandemic has had to play in opening up the conversation surrounding mental health and reducing the stigma which comes with it.
Richard shared a moving story of his own personal recovery from a mental breakdown in 2011 acknowledging how pivotal stories like his are in changing the conversation around mental wellbeing. With one in four adults suffering from poor mental health, Richard stressed that we all have a story to tell, it is just a case of being brave enough to tell it. Doing so will encourage organisations to open this conversation further and place mental health firmly on the agenda.
The power of storytelling was reinforced by Charles who commented that stigmas arise through a lack of awareness, causing people to inadvertently discriminate. Charles then delved deeper into mental health first aid; a concept which was launched back in 2018 at AON. He commented on how the company has been surprised by the number of interactions employees have had with mental health first aiders and how this can be equally as rewarding for both parties involved.
When asked how leaders can best support their teams, Vicky highlighted the pivotal role that flexible working and regular contact play when it comes to protecting employee wellbeing. Argo has been running mental health training to ensure their employees are aware this is a phenomenon that does not discriminate and that it is okay not to be okay. In tune with this year’s theme of authenticity and perspective, Vicky emphasised the need to be authentic and bring your whole self to work, not just your ‘best self’.
When asked what their biggest piece of advice would be to those suffering from poor mental health, all three panellists highlighted the need to look out for each other and the importance of being kind. In the closing remarks, the audience were advised not to suffer in silence. You are not alone when it comes to mental health, the chances are that someone else around you is suffering too.