Mental wellbeing should be for all

With the recent announcements by Simone Biles, Ben Stokes and others in the sporting world that they are taking time out to look after their mental health, we all feel a bit more empowered to think about whether our lives really support us maintaining good mental health.

Our wellbeing is affected by so many aspects of life: the jobs we do, our financial situation, the people around us, physical health and, most importantly, the level of control of life that we have.

Elite athletes and other celebrities also have the added pressure of public expectation and the intrusion of the press into what they hoped would be the sanctity of private life. Of course it could be argued that this comes with the territory of fame and is a necessary evil that celebrities should be able to deal with. Whatever your take is on the celebrity privacy debate and the belief that people have an obligation to entertain their fans; that people feel they cannot carry on doing their job safely is a major cause for concern. This is why, despite obviously causing some problems in terms of potential short-term sporting success, athletes who have raised issues about their mental health have been publicly supported by sporting governing bodies and the media.

The rest of us may have a different experience. Burn-out and feeling anxious, even scared, because of work is becoming more and more prevalent as the pandemic has left some people detached from routine and floundering with a plethora of mental health concerns. For non-celebrities the reaction of many people is likely to be very different to that afforded Olympic athletes. For a start, we are a lot more replaceable. We know that we are likely to be labeled as less likely to cope with more responsibility and potentially less likely to be promoted as a result of highlighting that we need support. There is a culture in some organisations of machismo and blame that is not conducive to understanding and supporting mental health problems.

Mental wellbeing is a very complex issue. I feel that for many people, learning to effectively cope with situations and becoming more resilient is secondary to being recognised as speaking out and therefore open and brave. I think both are needed, together with a realisation of how to navigate one’s own particular situation and an ongoing effort to change organisational cultures so that work becomes a source of wellbeing rather than distress.