In 2011, Dame Carol Black wrote a review with David Frost on sickness absence. She said time off work to recuperate was unavoidable, “but when unduly prolonged became damaging”. Addressing the wellbeing of staff, Black detailed, was the only way to tackle the issue. Years later, Prince William has taken up that mantle of pushing mental wellbeing by interviewing Lady Gaga.
Black and Frost found that 140m working days were lost to sickness absence, and that while most people came back to the office swiftly, 300,000 people fell out of work and onto health-related state benefits each year. As the media headlines keep pointing out, we’re no better than before. In fact, we’re now stuck with the complexity of declining sickness absence, but increasing ill health.
We’ve started a trend of bottling things up until the world comes tumbling down. Why? Because it was a delicate issue then, and it’s still stigmatised today – on some level, mental illness is privy to stereotyping. We’re ashamed of having it, but the sooner people realise it is, as Elyn Saks of the USC Gould School of Law once claimed, “a no-fault brain disease that you can’t just will away,” the better.
Saks detailed her struggle with schizophrenia in a Huffington Post article in 2011, and her notes of “society marginalising people who are different” and that some “have an unconscious fantasy that mental illness is contagious,” are disconcerting. But unless you constantly watch cat videos on YouTube or are the type to push your undone work onto someone else’s desk, then your mental wellbeing isn’t something you can always guarantee.
The era we live in is a stressful one in terms of work. We constantly compete, we want more productivity, we work longer hours, we can’t switch off even when on holiday and we’re facing a period of uncertainty keeping many business leaders awake at night. Any stressful event could impact your wellbeing, leaving you vulnerable to depression, anxiety and even digestive problems.
If work really is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, then surely we need to talk about the issue. If you spot a member of staff exhibiting the signs of stress and fast-approaching burnout, then take them to the side and have a talk. Maybe they didn’t realise how much pent up stress they truly had, but chances are they didn’t feel they could approach you with the matter. What then? Both of you will suffer in one way or the other.
It’s why Lady Gaga confessing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) speaks words of courage. Previously, she wrote an open letter, saying: “I have wrestled for some time about when, how and if I should reveal my diagnosis of PTSD. After five years I am finally well enough to tell you. There is a lot of shame attached to mental illness, but it’s important you know there is hope and a chance for recovery. And I believe the most inexpensive and best medicine in the world is words.”
These inspirational words caused Prince William to seek her out so that they, together, can raise awareness for stress, mental illness and wellbeing in general. It was in the form of an interview, with Lady Gaga answering the questions. The series was perhaps inspired by Prince Harry, who in a Telegraph podcast proclaimed to have struggled with mental health since Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mom, because why would that help?” he said. “I was running around going, life is great, or life is fine. It was 20 years of not thinking about it and then two years of total chaos. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Prince William divulged in his interview with Lady Gaga that by no means should the topic of mental illness be deemed taboo. “It’s the same about physical health. Everybody has mental health. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”
The campaign, concocted alongside the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, is the first in a #oktosay series, in which people from all walks of life will be unveiling the mental health challenges they face. And if you want to see the interview between Prince William and Lady Gaga in full, here it is: