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Forget 1 in 4 when it comes to Mental Health

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'Forget 1 in 4 when it comes to Mental Health' - Alastair Campbell, GDAW 2017

As a society, we’ve travelled a long way when it comes to mental health. By now, Mind’s ‘one in four’ statistic is fairly well known compared to ten years ago when public awareness of mental health was limited. Alastair Campbell, however, thinks that we need to go further and talk about ‘one in one’.

Speaking at last month’s Good Day at Work Conversation at the Royal College of Physicians, the former Downing Street press secretary stressed that he believes 'everyone has mental health’ in the same way that we all suffer from physical ill health. And that while there may have been great leaps in terms of breaking down the stigma around mental health, with more people ‘coming out’ and talking openly about their problems, it’s creating a parity between mental and physical ill health in the public and political consciousness that is the ongoing battle.

Referring to mental health as one of the ‘next great movements of change’, Mr. Campbell said: “I’m sure none of you have actually read the NHS constitution, but if you did you’ll see that it’s in there in black and white - parity between physical and mental health. But we just don’t have it. I think we’re making massive progress with regards to the stigma and taboo - my worry is that the Government are seeing that as a substitute for what needs to be done with services.”

Likening his own experience of psychosis to a high-speed car accident, Mr. Campbell went on to question why previous governments had pledged to ‘treat people suffering from psychosis within two weeks’.
“Imagine going at 90 miles an hour, flying through the windscreen and landing on the road - that’s what psychosis feels like. And then someone comes along to you and says ‘don’t worry- an ambulance is going to be here in two weeks’”

Alastair Campbell speaking at GDAW 2017Mr. Campbell was addressing senior HR professionals from 200 of the UK’s leading employers who came together to attend Robertson Cooper’s GDAW Conversation -  discussing all aspects of workplace wellbeing. In doing so, he drew on his personal experiences, which include struggles with alcohol and a well-documented psychotic breakdown in the ‘80s.

Mr. Campbell explained what an important role his past employers have played in understanding his mental health. Employed by the Today newspaper at the time, he got a call from his former boss at the Daily Mirror immediately following his breakdown.

“I had been arrested and was in hospital, all he knew was that I’d had a breakdown, and his response was to say ‘I’m not going to let that define you for me’ - and he offered me my job back. Then, when Tony Blair asked me to work for him, I refused many times, as I was aware of how much pressure the job would involve. But he was very persistent. I decided to go for it but I knew I had to sit him down and tell him all about my breakdown. I told him everything and his words were; “I’m not bothered if you’re not. I thought…this man is likely to become Prime Minister and he ‘gets it’’

Continuing, Mr. Campbell said more employers need to take this kind of ‘risk’: “If you’ve got two people applying for a job, one who has an impeccable CV and one who has the same CV but has taken six months out because of depression or an addiction - which do you pick?” 

He believes employers will always go for the first, but should, in fact, go for the second, arguing that they’ll have additional skills including resilience - because they have been through something tough - and will inevitably be more empathetic. He also believes that by choosing the second candidate employers will be proving that they recognise mental illness as an illness in the same way they do physical ailments, taking them one step closer to achieving parity. “Employers are so important because they are the leaders - it’s about setting an example. I think we’re making progress in the workplace but it’s patchy and so much of it depends on companies deciding that this matters.

“There is work to be done in persuading leaders that it’s in their interest to want their workforce to be happy, healthy and productive; and that means acknowledging that some of them are going to struggle at some point and they may need support themselves

“We can campaign in government, we can campaign in this public awareness space but I think employers have as big a role as anyone to play in this. It’s about how we get to that parity so that we all feel we can be as open about our mental health as our physical health and understanding that that’s good for us. Until we do that, we’ve got a long way to go.”

After his talk, Mr. Campbell joined a panel discussion on Creating Parity for Mental and Physical Health with Prof. Sir Cary Cooper from Robertson Cooper, Neil Laybourn - award winning mental health campaigner and public speaker, and Ruth Sutherland from the Samaritans, which was chaired by Sarah Coghlan from The Movember Foundation.

Later that week, he went on to join the high profile Heads Together campaign with Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, filming a short video with his partner Fiona, talking about his depression and breakdown. 


At Good Day at Work, we're really grateful to Alastair for giving his time to talk to our community of employers and proud to be part this fight for parity

To find out more about the Good Day at Work Conversation, please click here for further details and the opportunity to register your interest for our 2018 event

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Guest Thursday, 27 July 2017

Cary CooperGood Day at Work™

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

Ben MossBen on Twitter

MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

Cary CooperCary on Twitter

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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