This month is Mental Health Awareness month in the US and in the UK Mental Health Awareness week is May 10th until May 16th.
I am a strong advocate for talking about our mental health, firstly I have suffered from depression and anxiety and so I have some understanding of how poor mental health can impact people. Secondly, I have seen the impact of the pressures that can exist within a family business on people’s mental health.
In this weeks show I speak to Whitney Johnson about mental health awareness in your family business or family office. What signs we can be looking for and what we can do to break the taboo that still exists around mental illness.
As we discuss in the show, statistics suggest that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness and given the events of the past 14 months or so, it is likely that more of us will be dealing with increased concerns, worries and anxieties.
Mental Health Awareness month / week is an opportunity to provide additional focus on something that I feel very passionately about. In my view every week and every month should be mental health awareness week / month. I think there is more we can all be doing to help each other in this area and the first thing is to become more aware or remind ourselves of the things to look out for in our friends, family and colleagues that may suggest that they are struggling.
This is not an exhaustive list and there are other signs too, you will know your friends and family best and so if you notice that their behaviour, demeanour, appearance etc has changed, this may be a sign that they are struggling.
Listen to the Episode here:
Unless you are a mental health professional you cannot diagnose a mental illness, however there are things that you can do to help if you think someone is struggling. It may require bravery from you and awkward or difficult conversations but there are ways that you can raise the subject in a way that is both sensitive and productive.
Firstly, be aware that they may not want to talk about it, irrespective of the relationship you have with them, it may still be something that is too hard for them to speak about.
Don’t let that put you off, you can’t decide before you have spoken to someone how they may react. In some families it may be that you don’t talk about your feelings, it may be that you are extremely open with each other about how you feel, that doesn’t necessarily mean that talking about mental health issues will be easy or a non-starter.
Understanding that mental health issues are really common and breaking taboos about it is something that we can all unite together around.
Verbalising some of our concerns for people is a productive way help raise the issue with them. Whitney gives the examples in the show of saying things like, “I am concerned about how stressed you are” or “I have struggled with this myself in the past and I am worried about you” or “I noticed you seemed upset in the meeting today, is everything OK?”
If someone is struggling you can ask “how can I help you with this?”
If you are an adviser and working with a family and you notice some of the signs above it can be tempting not to say anything. You may be thinking that it is not your place to raise such issues, but if you do feel that you know the family well enough, and you are comfortable to do so, it may be that speaking to an objective third party may be easier for that individual than speaking to their family about it.
Part of our role as advisers, in my opinion, is being conscious of the importance of mental health awareness and ways in which we can use our privileged position when advising the family to help break taboos and start conversations.
Care is needed and it isn’t easy but there can be a huge amount of appreciation from the family that someone has raised an issue. It can be the catalyst for conversations to begin.
You are able to get training as an advisor on how to deal with raising these issues, and there are specialists in this area, that are also happy and willing to help if necessary.
If we are to break the taboo of mental health, we all have a role we can play in helping to ‘normalise’ the conversation about how we are doing and how to get help if we are struggling.
Never underestimate the power of the question “how are you?”, importantly never underestimate the difference it can make to actually be interested in the answer. We all do it, we ask our friends and family “how are you?” most days, and typically we are met with an “I’m fine” or “yeah, I’m OK” and then we move on to whatever we need to speak about.
Taking an active interest in the response and checking if that’s really the case is a very powerful way to start a conversation with someone who may be suffering from poor mental health.
I was recently called by a friend that I hadn’t spoken to for a while, we started the conversation as most begin, he asked me “how are you?”, my response, “I’m fine”.
Rather than moving on he asked again, “come on mate, how are you?”. Simply asking the question again showed me two things
It had been a difficult week, and so talking about it helped. It helped me to organise some of my thoughts around what was going on, it helped me to say out loud some of the things that were taking up headspace and get some input from someone. It also helped because it meant an awful lot that this person genuinely cared about how I was rather than letting me ‘get away with’ saying “yeah, I’m OK”.
It may seem like a really simple thing, but from my own personal experience with depression and anxiety, feeling like you can talk about how you are, without the risk of judgement or just being told to “cheer up” is really empowering.
It is what lead me to counselling (therapy) and understanding more about why I was feeling the way I felt and then led to me feeling better.
If you are struggling with your own mental health and you aren’t sure where to look for help, there is a list of resources at the bottom of this blog but my suggestion would be to find someone you can talk to.
This doesn’t have to be a friend or family member, you may find it easier to speak to a trained professional or anonymously to a helpline.
It’s okay not to be okay
It may sound cliche, but it is true. We are complex, emotional beings and we are living in a demanding and complex world at the best of times, throw into the mix the events of the last 14 months or so and it’s understandable that our mental health may have suffered.
Mental Health Awareness week / month is an opportunity to read, listen, watch and talk more about this really important topic.
Where to get help
O’Connor Professional Group have put together OPG’s Guide to Resources for Families that highlights the many sources of help and guidance available for those who may be listening or reading this from the US.
For the UK audience the below may be useful too:
If you are reading this from outside the US and UK and are looking for somewhere to get some assistance, please reach out to a medical professional, specialist organisation or charity local to you. There is help available and when there is help there is always hope.
Whitney is the Director of Business Development at O’Connor Professional Group. Whitney earned a BA in Psychology from Colorado College and is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach with a special focus on grief, anger, and anxiety.
Before joining OPG, Whitney was Founder & CEO of an international nonprofit that provided health and psycho-social support services to young people living with HIV.
Whitney’s work received recognition, and she was named a World Economic Forum Global Shaper in 2012, attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in 2014, was a guest speaker at Chicago Ideas Week, and has been interviewed on several news outlets.
She leverages ten years of experience in programmatic operations and business development.
Whitney also has extensive personal and professional experience in the Family Office space and is a member of the Family Firm Institute (FFI).
Her unique professional experiences broaden her ability to understand and effectively address a wide variety of life circumstances and challenges that clients may be facing.