Why do you think mental health sufferers fear openly acknowledging their mental health issues in the workplace?
People still don’t really know how to talk about it, especially if you don’t have a reference point. Despite increased awareness of mental health conditions, more than 90 percent of people believe that admitting to a mental health condition could damage their career prospects.
1 in 4 of the population is likely to suffer from a mental health problem in their lifetime. How can this affect people in the consulting industry?
Consulting has high performance culture and attracts driven people. There is a danger that people work too hard and don’t get enough down time. That was a trap I fell into; I was enjoying what I was doing but was working crazy hours and not getting enough sleep or down time and it really compounded how I felt. Before you know it you suffer from burnout and fall over.
What changes have to be made in the consulting industry in order to tackle mental health awareness?
There needs to be a lot more visible role models. When we talk about mental health there is a huge spectrum; we might be talking about someone who has had a bereavement in the family or who is trying to meet a deadline in a tricky project, to people who suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar. Actually having people who can talk about how they deal with these conditions and still maintain a successful career and home life is very important. Unless you have someone to look up to, you may feel you’re battling these things on your own.
How do you differentiate between a bad day and a bad week to something which is an actual issue you need to address?
In my case the differentiator was the amount of time it went on for. It can last for weeks and months and there seems to be no end in sight. Sometimes they would be triggered by events, sometimes they wouldn’t. If you are struggling with sleep, feeling under pressure and not operating at your best then talking to your GP, HR department or someone you trust is a good first step.
The key for me was teaching myself how to operate at my best every day. We are all going to be under different pressures at different times but I found real value in to stepping back and being self-aware of how I was feeling, why and what I needed to do about it. With some people it is about making the time to do something you enjoy, other people need talking therapies or counselling. That first step is critical in being able to deal with it.
Don’t suffer in silence; there is awful lot of support out there provided by your companies and GPs. Your health comes first, and dealing with those issues is of critical importance.
If you are not operating at the top of your game then you need to deal with it.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience and how KPMG were able to help you?
I first came out at work at an event on mental health attended by a load of like-minded people from KPMG and other organisations. They were talking about their own struggles with mental health and asked me about my interest in the subject. I said I suffered from depression. From that moment on I came out about it and I didn’t feel that different at all.
One of the pivotal moments for me was a couple years ago was when I was going through the promotion process to become a Director. I was naturally worried that a high pressure situation like that, with me being very driven and wanting results, might tip me over the edge. I took the decision to speak to my sponsors who were both partners and they were nothing but supportive. I thought if they don’t have a problem about it then frankly there is no problem, I can get on and be as honest as I need to be. From that moment on I didn’t feel the need to hide anything. KPMG has a very supportive environment, checking up on me to make sure I wasn’t over doing it and getting my down time.
What support can HR departments offer?
There is awful lot of support there; I am just not sure people know about it. Big firms will have specific HR processes around employees’ wellness, counselling, healthcare, support. I wasn’t aware of this until I spoke to my HR manager but it makes such a difference to have confidential and useful resources. Companies have the responsibility to advertise the support they offer the staff.
How can you recognise if a colleague is suffering?
There needs to be self-awareness from a line management perspective. Do you understand the people you are working with? When you ask them how they are and they say ‘fine’ are they really? Are you confident enough to dig beneath?
In a supportive way line managers can be a very good first step. They have a duty of care towards those they are managing and therefore they may well be able to spot that someone is not performing at the top of their game. Usually there is a reason for that. The line managers can even say, you don’t have to tell me, we have confidential HR and over support available.
You recently participated in the second annual Time to Talk day. What does this involve?
It is an initiative set up by Time to Change which is from the charity Mind. The aim is to take 5 minutes of your day to have a conversation about someone’s mental health and how they are feeling. At KPMG we set up a stand in our coffee lounge with a lot of support material available. It was great that people felt able to have those conversations and hopefully they will go on to talk to others.
KPMG is a founding member of the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA). What is the alliance about?
The CMHA is a coalition of like-minded companies in the City of London working together to share information about mental health. It was initially founded by KPMG, Linklaters and Goldman Sachs about two years ago and now has over 25 members who all work together. The vision is to increase mental health literacy, foster a culture of openness and provide practical tools that staff can use.