Complex subjects make for uneasy debate, and mental health is a good example. The Time to change campaign led by Mind and Rethink has done an excellent job of highlighting that although practically everyone will either experience mental health problems or be close to someone who does, the stigma attached to them makes us reluctant to talk about it.
Last night I helped run an RSA Fellows’ workshop at 3space focusing on the role that enterprise can play in addressing mental health challenges. A handful of inspiring projects described their work, and then the group of thirty or so people (mostly RSA Fellows) shared and developed their ideas over the course of the evening. One project, a social enterprise that will provide employers with advice on how to avoid discrimination and ensure the mental health needs of their employees are accommodated, was awarded a provisional Catalyst award of £2,000 at the end of the evening.
For me, though, the most encouraging thing was the care and thought that went into contributions to the many discussions throughout the evening. At one point, an interesting debate emerged on the possibilities of providing support for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Mic Starbuck and Andy Gibson (who led the project that was funded) had proposed that generic advice could be produced that would helpful to anyone at the point of diagnosis.
Artist Bobby Baker (whose amazing work my colleague Emma Lindley has blogged about before) responded by making a passionate case for why the variety of experiences of bipolar disorder means that one-size-fits-all advice would be unhelpful. Andy’s response accepted this point, suggesting that the aim should be to reinforce this message through the advice given, and help people connect with others who could share their own stories.
Mindful of time, I moved the discussion on, but in fact my heart had leapt a little. This kind of mutually respectful, passionate debate between people with different but complementary experience is a rare enough thing to make it worth celebrating when it happens. It’s tempting to think of talk as a barrier to action. In fact, good talk is what makes action possible.
As Time to Change shows, one of the biggest barriers to better mental health is resistance to talking about it. As Emma has argued persuasively, we can’t counter discrimination and stigma around mental health in the workplace until we understand what creates and perpetuates them. And as the discussion I described earlier illustrates, the first step in agreeing how to support people with mental health challenges is to recognise and reflect the wide range of personal experiences that accompany them.
This was just one highpoint in a long, energetic evening that saw a huge number of ideas form and develop. As well as the project awarded funding, another group hope to take forward their idea for a social enterprise that would support employers in making better provision for people with mental health difficulties – for instance, resolving insurance issues, or arranging temporary cover for time off.
If you’re interested in the issues I’ve touched on here, the debate will continue online on the Mental health and wellbeing group on the Fellowship social network. I’m also keen to hear people’s views on how we can encourage more discussion and exchange of the kind I’ve described – not only because it’s vitally important to understand people’s experiences of mental health, but also because of how it can help to improve them.
Sam is @iamsamthomas on Twitter. You can follow last night's event as it unfolded on Storify.