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'Good Mental Health At Work Is More Important Than A Pay Rise’

© Jonathon Donovan

Natasha Devon explains why she’s joined forces with Grazia and Bauer Media to demand better psychological care at work...

What are the ingredients for happiness and success? Job satisfaction? Climbing the career ladder? An extra zero on your salary? These are certainly the things we’re encouraged to focus on and strive for. Yet I remember distinctly the moment when I realised that, without mental wellbeing, nothing else really matters.

It was 2005. I was laying on the floor of my bedroom, exhausted after having forced myself to vomit – again. My head was a tumble-dryer of anxious, distressing thoughts and I was starting to think the only way to escape them was suicide. I suddenly wondered: how have I ended up here? I had a great CV with lots of qualifications. I was just about functioning in a good job, making decent money. I was young, as beautiful as I was ever going to be and should, according to the ‘life rules’ I’d learned, have the world at my feet.

A lot has changed since then and giant leaps are being made to break down taboos around mental illness. Yet a new survey by Bauer Media found that 53% of people have experienced a mental health issue in the past year and, of those who needed time off work, half told their bosses it was for a different reason. Furthermore, common complaints, such as migraines and back pain, often have no observable physical cause, representing the parts of our body where
we store stress and anxiety.

Mental ill-health costs employers and the economy but, more importantly, it takes a toll on the quality of life of millions of people. That’s why I’m spearheading this campaign to make it compulsory for workplaces to have on-site people trained in mental health first aid.

All the evidence shows that the earlier a mental health issue is detected, the more treatable it will be. We tend to dismiss stress or anxiety as being an inescapable part of life, yet if we don’t find outlets for them it can lead to a whole range of serious health conditions, such as panic disorder, depression, immune system problems, high blood pressure and even heart disease.

If someone cuts their finger in the office, we don’t call them a hypochondriac, tell them to soldier on, then accuse them of weakness when it becomes infected – so why do we take this attitude when it comes to mental health? Part of the problem is fear: we think that if we ask colleagues about their mental health it might open up a can of worms we’re not qualified to deal with. Yet we don’t feel this burden about physical ailments. If someone in your office had a heart attack, you wouldn’t perform surgery at your desk. But you might put them in the recovery position and call an ambulance and, in doing so, save their life.

That’s where the notion of mental health first aid comes in – it’s the psychological equivalent of bandages and CPR and,
just like physical first aid, it involves knowing the procedures if you have to call for outside assistance. Mental health first-aid courses teach you to spot the early symptoms of problems like depression, anxiety and eating disorders, how to have non-judgemental work-based discussions and appropriate further action to take.

This kind of expertise is vital to the health and happiness of the nation. That’s why I’ve joined forces with some of Bauer Media’s most influential brands – including Grazia, Heat, Kiss FM and Magic FM – as well as Mental Health First Aid England to launch the Where’s Your Head At? campaign. It calls for a change in the law so it would be compulsory to have people trained in basic mental health first aid in the workplace. You can sign a petition to help ensure the matter is discussed in Parliament by going to wheresyourheadat.org.

Traditionally, we’re told one in four people will experience a mental health issue. Yet we all have a brain, which means we all have mental health. It’s time we realised how precious our minds are and treated looking after them as a priority.

Natasha’s book, ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Being Mental’, is out 17 May (£17.99, Bluebird)

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