Mental Health Awareness Week - the pros and cons

Jo Hooper

Last year during Mental Health Awareness Week I was grappling with my own mental health issues, a couple of months into a three month stint on sick leave (or ‘not fit for work’ as the new sick notes say – nice).

This year, things are pretty different. In the last year I have said goodbye to the industry I spent 11 years in, left behind a comfortable guaranteed salary and set up on my own. And I’m probably the least stressed I’ve been in years.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still experience anxiety (not least in the lead up to this week when I’ve felt a little crushed under the weight of the pressure I’ve put on myself), but it’s a very different feeling now – I think because I feel very much in control of my work – something I haven’t felt in…let’s just say a long time.

So, this is the first Mental Health Awareness Week I’ve experienced as someone working in the area. And it’s got me wondering how I feel about it – about awareness weeks/months/days in general really.

Mental Health Awareness Week M&S Club

Mental Health Awareness Week: what is it?

It started in 2001, the brainchild of the Mental Health Foundation, the idea is to raise awareness of issues surrounding mental health, encourage conversation, debate and, as it says on the tin – awareness.

It’s supported and promoted by charities, campaigners and companies across the sector and there is some great activity going on. The symbol for the week is a green ribbon – so you’ll see it on blog posts (including this one!), LinkedIn profiles and lapels a lot this week.

Awareness weeks are a great memory jogger. A good excuse (if it were needed) to start talking about mental health at work. But, to some, is it just an opportunity tick a box that remains empty for the rest of the year?

The Pros

  • In PR land, we would have called the week a hook. A reason to talk about something – a time-limited prompt to make something more topical than it would normally be
  • It’s a good intro for firms who are just starting to consider how to talk about mental health issues in the workplace and can lead on to longer commitments
  • By bringing the issue into the spotlight, people may consider their own mental health – especially with the right prompts – and consider if they really are OK

Now for the Cons…

  • It can be used as a box to tick. A day or week of activity does not a real to commitment to mental health at work make
  • Some may see it as disingenuous. If an organisation only talks about mental health when it’s topical, it isn’t going to ring true with your staff or stakeholders – use it as a springboard to develop a real, genuine focus or commitment and it will be far more impactful

The decider

I guess it comes down to intent and values.

Are you talking about mental health with the intention to help? Or to tick a box that doesn’t need looking at for another year?

And do you believe in the power of talking about mental health at work? Does it sit right with your organisations values? Is the leadership team behind it?

If you’re stuck on this last one – as many are – I’ve got a blog post coming for you on Friday with some tips around getting senior buy in.

So what does it take to continue the mental health agenda beyond this week?

It needs drive. Someone to take up the reins and drive the agenda forward. That means coming up with comms activity throughout the year; considering how to get employees involved; sharing stories and content whenever it comes up; working across the organisation to consider if there’s more your employer could be doing as well as saying.

It takes commitment. Genuine passion. A belief that it is the right thing to do.

I hear a lot of questions about ‘where does mental health sit in an organistaion,’ don’t get tied up in this – someone has to start, so give it a go!

If you want to come up with a plan to do something about mental health beyond this week, please check out my mad and sad class – you’ll come away with resources, tools and ideas to put into action in your workplace.

I’ve also got a special Mental Health Awareness Week offer for you – enter the code MAD20 at the checkout and you’ll get 20% off your place.

In the meantime, to get you started on comms around mental health this week, I’ve written for Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog – go check it out for some tips and a free worksheet.

Mental Health Awareness Week worksheet

What I’ll be up to this week…

Tomorrow, I’ll be chatting all things mental health and the power of simple, human phrases at this event with MobFit – tickets are free if you want to come along.

On Wednesday, I’ll have a new My Story for you from Vik Turbine – a former academic. I’ll also be talking to hundreds of employees of Link Group across London – wish me luck!

Come Friday, I’ll be sharing with you some tips and tricks on how to get buy in from your leadership team to tackle mental health at work.

For now, please let me know what you think about Mental Health Awareness Week – the comments section is always open.

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