How to overcome your own mental health preconceptions and help family members speak out
2020 has taken a mental health toll on us all. But for some, stigmas could prevent them or family members from getting the help they need. Here experts explain why it’s important to overcome preconceptions about mental health issues and speak out.
Mental health problems are becoming more and more common: one in four adults and one in 10 children are now thought to experience mental health issues, which means that almost all of us will know someone who is suffering1.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated this issue. Recent data from Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index found that 70%2 of high net worth individuals from around the world have experienced symptoms of mental ill-health since the pandemic started, with 21% suffering from fatigue, 22% from disturbed sleep, 23% enduring low moods and anxiety and another 21% experiencing feelings of anger and impatience.
Pallavi Dean, founder and creative director of the Dubai-based interior-architecture studio Roar, is one:
‘I’m a very anxious person, and the COVID-19 situation definitely worsened the condition, especially in the beginning,’ she says. ‘I have two young children and run my own practice, and my mental health suffered.’
It is wholly understandable, according to Dr Luke James, Medical Director Bupa Global & UK Insurance.
‘One shouldn’t underestimate the impact on our mental health of watching or reading the news with stories of death, suffering and illness on a day to day basis throughout the crisis,’ he says.
But it’s not just us – our families are struggling, too. A study by researchers at the University of Oxford of more than 10,000 parents of British children aged 4-10 years old, found that they saw increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, such as feeling unhappy, worried, which resulted in behaviours including being clingy3.
And this can have a knock-on impact on the whole family. ‘It’s the kind of thing that does tear families apart,’ according to Suzanne Alderson, a British mother whose teenage daughter suffered from depression after being bullied at school.
It can have devastating results, if left unchecked. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, according to Suzanne.
‘It was totally frightening; we were desperate for answers. We were struggling to get through the days.’
Mental health stigma
But even though so many of us and our families are experiencing mental ill-health, talking about it is often still seen as a taboo.
‘I come from an Indian family, and there’s a huge stigma around discussing any kind of feeling,’ Pallavi agrees. ‘When I was younger, I used to think that people would think the worst of me if I mentioned I was depressed.’
According to the Bupa Global Index, 41% of high net worth individuals feel that speaking about mental health would be seen as a sign of weakness in their family and 33% feel that speaking out about mental health issues could impact on their own social standing or professional reputation. It’s what psychologists call ‘self-stigma’ as it’s the ‘prejudice which people with mental illness turn against themselves,’ according to a paper published in the journal World Psychiatry4.
Suzanne agrees that it was hard talking about her daughter’s mental health with others, even with her extended family. ‘We felt massively judged a lot of the time, even by friends and family,’ she says.
‘However well-meaning they are, they don’t always understand that you can’t just tell your child to snap out of it if they have a mental illness.’ In an effort to help other parents, she set up an international online support group, Parenting Mental Health and has just released a book, Never Let Go; How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness.
Change at work
The good news is that things are changing. Businesses are increasingly recognising that, especially in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, employees and their families might be struggling. Several high-profile global companies have stepped up their offering of emotional support for employees during the pandemic, including Microsoft, Deloitte and P&G, which have set up mental health helplines for employees and their families.
Pallavi says that she was able to harness her anxiety at the start of the pandemic to transform and adapt her business quickly.
‘When you’re anxious, you naturally think about every worst-case scenario, and so I was prepared. I took early steps, like making the office work from home about three weeks before the government enforced it.’
But although some level of stress can be useful in business, Pallavi acknowledges that this might not always be the case – and that everyone’s experience of mental health issues is different. The first step is being open and honest. When she’s invited to speak about entrepreneurship, ‘it’s one of the first things I talk about on stage. I think we have to embrace it [talking about mental health issues], rather than brush it under the carpet. Just because you’re successful doesn’t mean that everything is OK, and there’s no one-size fits all approach to dealing with it.’
Fortunately, family views are changing, too. According to results from Bupa Global’s Index, 48% of high net worth individuals now take mental health more seriously than ever before and 29% say they will be open and approachable about mental health in the future. Another 20% say that they have seen the benefit of life-coaching or therapy for their children.
Pallavi wants to encourage more families to speak openly about mental health struggles.
‘I see a psychologist once a month and I’m very open about this because I don’t want people to think that there’s anything wrong with it,’ she says. ‘I have two young boys and I never say, ‘don’t cry’; instead I teach them to experience each and every one of their feelings.’
Bupa Global Resources for customers
Bupa Global has resources to help you and your family cope. If you’re a Bupa Global customer and have a health concern the Global Virtual Care (GVC) service provides confidential access to a global network of doctors by telephone or video call, with virtual appointments available 24/7 in multiple languages - enabling you to speak to a doctor at a time that suits you. Please visit our COVID-19 information hub for more details on how you can access our GVC service.
Bupa Global customers also have access to our Healthline service, which gives access to general medical information on COVID-19 and other medical conditions (mental and physical) as well as providing advice from health professionals and referrals for a second medical opinion.
Alternatively, if you have access to Bupa Global through your employer – you and your family may be entitled to use the Employee Assistance Programme. The programme entitles eligible Bupa Global customers to access trained healthcare professionals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year via phone, email or online to talk through any work, life or personal concerns.
Global Virtual Care, Second Medical Opinion and Bupa Lifeworks are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or by the Prudential Regulation Authority. Global Virtual Care is provided by Advance Medical, a Teladoc Health Company, and Bupa Lifeworks is provided by Lifeworks who are both service providers for Bupa Global. Bupa Global is not responsible for any actions or omissions carried out by these third parties in the provision of these services.