World Mental Health Day

Last week, the 10th October, was World Mental Health day.  A day aimed at breaking down the stigmas that surround mental health and improving awareness on the issue.

According to the Mental Health Foundation;

One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year.  Statistically then, it is almost guaranteed that some of your peers are struggling with mental health issues themselves or with a family member. Having a profound impact on the lives of millions of people worldwide, affecting their ability to sustain relationships, work, or just get through the day.

An ill-informed and damaging attitude among some people exists around mental health that can make it difficult for some to seek help. It is estimated that only about a quarter of people with a mental health problem in the UK receive ongoing treatment, leaving most people grappling with mental health issues on their own, seeking help or information, dependent on the informal support of family, friends or colleagues.

I work in the Information Technology industry as a consultant.  I’ve worked in this industry for 17 years.  This is an industry that is filled with high pressure activities, tight deadlines, fraught with frustration, an endless education/re-education requirement and a complexity that some in other industries would no doubt be surprised at.

This is an industry that will be forever caricatured by the phrase “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”.  However, as organisations modernise, seek to extract more value from IT investment, stay compliant, rearchitect services for the cloud and explore ‘digital disruption’ – increasingly the fate of an organisation lies with the capabilities of its IT staff.

Therefore, it would be fair to say that if anything the pressures on those working in the industry are growing.

In the years, I’ve worked in IT I’ve seen people worked to breaking point.  I’ve experienced first-hand requirements for staff to opt out of the European working hours directive. Committing to long stretches of 70 hour working weeks without time off and placed on call rotas 24/7/365.

I’ve seen the impact that this has on lives, including my own, where people used alcohol to switch off and escape from the constant demands of work.  A few years back, before I became tee total, on a weeknight at my local pub you would find a mix of developers, support and project staff from many different companies, drawn together in solidarity I guess, each of them drinking more often than not until closing time.

Being a consultant comes with its own blend of issues to manage.  You never really know 100% where you are going to be working from week to week and sometimes day to day, making planning family life particularly hard (I’m writing this in a hotel on a Sunday night and will miss family events on Monday and Tuesday).  There is also the expectation that comes with the consultant tag and the requirement to be the expert.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard or been aware of a conversation within any IT department that I’ve worked at around mental health.  It just doesn’t seem to be considered, perhaps we’re all just too busy to think about it!

Perhaps in the IT industry there is room to start a discussion, to remove some of the stigma and to raise awareness about mental health.

Thanks for reading.

Simon

The following links, have more information and material about mental health in the workplace;

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-support-mental-health-work

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/

http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx