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Following Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, broadcast earlier this week, the topic of mental health has once again been brought into the media spotlight.

During the interview the Duchess of Sussex discussed having suicidal thoughts, due to the alleged behaviour of Buckingham Palace and the pressure of media scrutiny. The Duchess told Oprah, “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore, I was really ashamed to say it at the time…but I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it.” She continued to say that she had asked for help, but that this was refused because it “wouldn’t be good for the institution”.

These comments have led to both support for the Duchess and criticism against her for speaking openly, not only about her mental health, but also about her suicidal thoughts. One particular former morning television presenter has openly stated that he does not believe a word that the Duchess has said and has labelled her the “Pinocchio Princess”.

Although mental wellbeing has never been so topical it is clear that there is still a stigma to overcome. At a time when the mental health of a public figure is being openly questioned and even doubted how can others who are struggling ask for help and how can they be supported in all aspects of their life?

Mental health campaigner, Jonny Benjamin, told BBC News that many people experience shame and embarrassment when talking about mental health difficulties and need to be met with compassion and understanding. Often employers can be the first person that someone who is struggling turns to as they try to seek help. How should an employer react to such a conversation and what support should they give?

  • Employers should encourage their employees to be open in their communication and treat all conversations with respect.
  • If an employee raises a concern it is important that the matter is handled sensitively, effectively and in good time.
  • It is important that employers listen to what their employee is telling them and, if appropriate, ask what they can do to best support them.
  • Employers should be aware of company policies and available support functions so that they can understand how to best support staff and how to have open conversations about how the employee is feeling.
  • Employers should not over promise the support that can be given and should remain respectful of professional/private boundaries.
  • If an employee is absent from work reasonable adjustments may need to be considered in order to facilitate a successful return.

Not only should employers be aware of where they can direct their employees for support but they should also be aware of their own needs. It can be emotionally difficult for employers and HR professionals when assisting others with mental health struggles and so they should also consider where they can turn to in order to find support.

There are many charities which offer support with mental health in the workplace. Mind have provided helpful guidance by which may assist in encouraging open conversations in the workplace, click here for further information. If you require any assistance in managing difficult conversations or assisting employees with mental health difficulties please contact either Nick Smith or Laura Tennet of the Mincoffs Employment Team on 0191 212 7773 or fill out the form below.


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