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Karina's Column

An insider’s view on the City of London and beyond

Innovation in the City


Mental Health Instruments

“Saying you had a mental health issue was career suicide in the bad old days,” says Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning at Pinsent Masons. The international law firm now has a video called This is Me on its intranet where one of its high-profile partners talks about his mental health problems. “Junior people are blown away by this!” says Mr Bond.

On World Mental Health Day (October 10) it is worth celebrating how much has changed. From the confessions of Alistair Campbell to Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio, and the support of Princes Harry and William – the former having admitted on television struggling on the back of his mother’s death – mental health is becoming a subject of open discussion. In the UK, the cost of mental illness is estimated at £25bn a year and one in four of the population will be affected at some point in their lives. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, while self-harm amongst the young is ever increasing.

The City may seem the most unlikely place for a major initiative on mental health. Yet the myriad high-achievers who populate its office towers, making it a fertile breeding ground for mental illness and suicide, also mean that its creative and organisational powers are a powerful tool for change. A few years ago Barclays’s employees came up with a 5 minute video This is Me aimed at removing the stigma associated with mental health. The bank put it on its intranet and it became the most watched video, encouraging conversations around mental health and helping broaden the mental health offering.

The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, whose Advisory Board I chair, heard about it and using its convening power – who, after all, would say no to a glossy invitation from the Lord Mayor? – sent out invitations to companies inviting them to hear about This is Me. Expecting 10 or so responses, we had about 75 for the first event and spent the next year running roundtables on implementing it. A year later, 142 companies now run the programme, including the Bank of England and BNY Mellon, with 95% of them saying This is Me has a positive impact on reducing the stigma of mental health. Another 516 firms are registered to learn about how to do it, not least when there is internal resistance, and it is set to roll out in the West Midlands, Scotland and the Northeast this October.

In the videos, a wide range of employees from managing directors to personal assistants to analysts, talk about their normality and their mental health issues. Facing the camera without any props, they state their position in the company, their passion for a football team or sailing, their children, and at some point in the spoken catalogue of their full lives, they mention they battled with depression/battle with anxiety attacks/battle with self-harm.

“At BNY Mellon we employ employees for their minds. We emphasise its okay not to be okay all the time,” says John Jack, Chief Financial Officer. Being encouraged to bring your whole self to work means opening up about mental health issues in a supportive atmosphere. Commitment and loyalty from employees, a scarce resource these days, is a welcome outcome.

This is, quite simply a revolution: from a taboo to a subject that is being actively addressed by an ever-larger number of companies. However, we still have far to go. The day will come when seeing a distressed colleague and asking what’s wrong will be as normal as commenting on someone’s sprained ankle as they hobble into work.