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World Mental Health Day: Smashing through stigma and making tough conversations easier

By Katie Rose Cuthbert, communications manager, Bravo Romeo by AJ

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By Katie Rose Cuthbert, communications manager, Bravo Romeo by AJ

Mental health. It’s a prickly subject to say the least. Despite the fact that we’re in 2018, hushed tones, awkward glances and uncomfortable shuffling often prevail whenever the topic of mental health is broached.

Wednesday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Let’s take a moment to examine what we can do, as friends, colleagues and neighbours, to… well… to talk about it.

Let’s start with the basics. What do we mean when we say mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is not the same as mental illness (although they are both equally important issues).

In this post, we’ll examine the ways that we can notice and nurture our collective mental health, specifically within the workplace, as well as shed light on some progressive initiatives taking place here in the UAE and MENA region.

  1. Reduce the stigma.

If we are to effectively tackle the issue of mental health in the workplace, it needs to be ok for people to say they’re not ok. Seemingly small steps can make a big difference. For example, put the issue of mental health on meeting agendas; pause when you ask ‘how are you?’ in the corridor and genuinely listen to the response; take the time to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Enable the conversation and encourage thought-sharing.

 2) Be brave. Be a change agent.

Given that mental health is not a widely acknowledged topic, it can be difficult to know what is “standard procedure” if you like. Colleagues and friends may feel that they are being intrusive, or over-stepping the mark, by taking a proactive interest in others’ mental health. We challenge you to take it on as a personal mission to normalize the acknowledgment, discussion and support of mental health issues.

3) Pay attention.

Now while this might be stating the obvious, it’s true. Mental health is a complex, largely misunderstood topic; symptoms are not always obvious and in reality most cases go undetected, unacknowledged or misjudged. It is common for sufferers to generalise and underestimate their symptoms, or hide them from others entirely. As a consequence, it is important that, for example, employers remain proactive, observant and knowledgeable. Lateness, changes in mood, work performance, a dishevelled appearance, or misplaced euphoria may all be indicators that someone is struggling with their mental health. Don’t be too quick to judge either way but rather, be open minded and thoughtful in your approach. Check in with your people.

What is being done locally?

Steps are being taken both locally and globally to address the issue. In October last year the Dubai Health Authority announced its “Happy Lives, Healthy Communities” strategy. The initiative is designed to help combat the rising issue of people suffering from poor mental health by “removing the stigma attached to it and empowering the patient”.

At the Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity, earlier this year, The Marketing Society hosted the first brave panel discussion on the topic, with the aim of starting the conversation in the region, on a public stage. They’re following it up with a panel on Being Brave About Mental Health, on October 30.

Khaled Ismail, Chairman of The Marketing Society’s Middle East chapter said: “Mental heath, or as I like to refer to it, mental wellbeing,  affects us all profoundly, with implications that range from personal and social health to national economics. As an industry, we need to not just talk about it, we need to act and continue to create awareness. I encourage you to join us for an upcoming brave conversation on Mental Health on Oct. 30 with Geoff McDonald, Executive Director of Open Minds Health and former Global Vice President HR for Marketing, Communications, Sustainability and Talent, Unilever.”

Click here to RSVP and find out more.

Cool stuff is also happening here in the tech space, in this region. Dubai-based entrepreneurs Mat Schramm and Jules Scholten have launched www.Talkcircle.com, an online portal that connects people to international licensed psychologists and psychotherapists via video and text therapy.

“Our goal is improve life satisfaction in the GCC, by making therapy easily accessible to more people. We want to reduce the stress that many face when it comes to the logistics, finance and perceived stigma associated with receiving support” said Mat Schramm.

Brave steps are being taken and now, we need you. Share your thoughts, write articles, get involved and most importantly… check in with your people.

We’ll leave you with this thought: Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and all other outward displays of someone struggling with their mental health are not a sign of weakness. They’re signs of strength under the pressure of endurance.