Last night I went to watch The Joker with some colleagues and it left me with a range of thoughts and emotions. Obvious amazement at the quality of the film and the tour de force of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, as Arthur Fleck, which I couldn’t recommend enough. But Todd Phillips’ film also offers an excellent (if disturbing) insight into mental health.
One quote really stuck with me:
‘The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t’.
It made me think about how mental health is treated within the workplace, and more specifically, on the recruitment sales floor.
For anyone who has any form of mental illness, feeling like you have to hide any facets of it in order to be ‘accepted’ or ‘fit in’ is a daily struggle. Society is largely unwilling to accept mental illness, especially in high pressured environments, be it anxiety, depression, bipolar, something else, all of the above. Often, the issue with psychological issues is that there’s no diagnosis in the wider population and even when there is, there’s an inherent stigma attached. This is most true with young adult males who have the expectations of a macho, protector persona put upon them through media outlets or by parents and social expectations that suggest talking about things is weak. This worryingly results in the fact that the biggest killer for males under the age of 45 in the UK is suicide. Yes, you read that right.
I want you to take the time to have a look around your office now at your colleagues as the chances are some of them have faced mental health issues. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Not only your colleagues but the candidates and clients that you work with will also be affected which can significantly affect your relationships and performance.
If you are lucky enough to have avoided any mental health issues it’s important to try to empathise and understand. The only way to do that is to have frank and open conversations. Most of us spend over a third of our time at work, even more so for time-pressured and target driven recruiters, so it is no longer feasible to separate our career from who we are in the rest of our lives. If mental health issues are prevalent in a person’s life then they’re present at work too. A recent survey identified the recruitment sector as the most stressful working environment with around 82% of consultants claiming to be stressed whilst at work which only adds to the weight of mental health issues.
After years of internalising and keeping it hidden from my directors and colleagues I myself have had such a conversation about my own depression last week. I tried to explain to them the depths of despair and sadness that can grip me, how it can take control of every facet of my being, even when I have a smile on my face.
As we all know, the recruitment game is very much up and down and this is amplified by mental health issues with the lows being oh so lower. It is very difficult to explain but anyone that has gone through it knows what it is like to have the big black dog sitting in the corner of the office, never leaving, always dragging you back down, with feelings of worthlessness and emptiness consuming you. In this environment, if you have no one to talk to, it is no wonder that people quit or do something much worse.
Although it was difficult, this frank conversation has resulted in the business having a more thorough understanding of my mental health and how it affects my performance. This allows them to make decisions that will have a positive impact on me. I now feel no shame in talking about it and feel that I could, if necessary, take the time to improve my mental health. If this approach was encouraged across the industry it would result in consultants feeling less burnt out, perhaps increase staff retention, and hopefully help to reduce the 6,507 suicides happening every year in the UK.
Today is officially World Mental Health Day and my hope is that by sharing my own struggles it can encourage a conversation throughout the industry allowing people to become unburdened from the stigma attached to their mental health issues.
I am very lucky to be working in such an open and trusting office and think that because of that I won’t be putting my clown makeup on and going all ‘Arthur Fleck’ anytime soon.