02 December 2019

Judith Everett: Breaking down the stigma of mental health

How are you? When you came to work today, did anyone ask you? Did you ask your colleagues? And did you really listen to their response? With the frenetic pace, constant connectivity and the always-on nature of our lives, it can sometimes feel like there is never a moment to pause. But if we are to start breaking down the stigma and taboos that surrounds mental health, then taking a moment is just what we need.

By now I’m sure you are familiar with the ‘1 in 4’ statistic, referring to the quarter of UK people who will experience a mental health problem each year. Common knowledge it may be, but when I take a moment I worry that this shorthand masks the real issue. It perpetuates the idea that mental health is something that happens to ‘other’ people, that there is such a thing as good mental health on the one hand and bad mental health on the other. 

I much prefer to think about mental health as a scale. One which we all traverse, from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. Of course, we should never forget that there are very serious and significant mental health problems which require professional support, but recognising that mental health is something we all have is the first, and very important step, in breaking down stigma. 

In our business we’ve been encouraging people to move away from thinking just about mental health and instead to focus on the importance of a healthy mind. It’s estimated that we make 35,000 choices every day, that’s one decision every two seconds. If our minds are not healthy and operating at their full potential, then how does that impact our decision-making? 

The ethos which underpins our approach to mental health and wellbeing is that we’re committed to creating an environment where everybody thrives. Healthy minds are vital for people to develop, be empowered and to make good choices – essentially to be the best they can be. 

There’s no one single route to reducing stigma, it is as complex as supporting our own healthy minds. We’ve spent the last 18 months reinforcing the message that it is OK to talk about mental wellbeing in our workplace. In our journey to reduce stigma within our own business, the most important lesson we’ve learned is the need to use a variety of messages and formats which resonate with different people. One size or approach does not fit all. We want our people to feel interested and engaged, so nothing is mandated. We have services for our people to access, including talking therapies to work through challenges we might be facing in any aspect of life. We’ve had inspirational speakers sharing their own mental health issues and where colleagues have felt inspired, and brave to share their personal stories we’ve created space for them to do that. 

I believe that there is no better place from which to push forward change than within the real estate industry. We are the creators of people’s homes and workspaces, the places they shop, dine and spend time. So while we are breaking down the barriers within our own industry, we must continue to challenge ourselves on what we can do to promote positive mental wellbeing in the spaces we create and through the broader influence we can have on the people we touch. 

As someone who arrived into the real estate sector five years ago, I like to think that I’m still bringing the outside-in view. Having worked in global energy and pharma, I’ve seen much of business and much of people too. And common throughout it all has been the power of connection. When we truly understand and engage with each other we can do extraordinary things. 

I’m also very conscious of the need to invest in my own mental health, so that I play a full role in creating a positive culture at work, but also in my life outside. On that note, I’m a big fan of the psychotherapist, Esther Perel. Her new podcast on our relationships at work, “How’s work”, is packed with interesting insights and food for thought. 

While I’m proud of what we have achieved so far, I know we’ve only just started on our journey to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. There is much more to learn and to try. The most important step is to recognise that this is a conversation we all need to start to have. Yes, we’ll need to be brave, it might mean being a bit vulnerable and it might be uncomfortable. But isn’t anything the first time we step outside of our comfort zone? Keep talking and connecting we must, as it has the power to transform not just our working lives, but our whole selves.

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