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Adrian Wakeling: How are you?

Thursday 02 February 2017

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses mental health.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowAdrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

 

I recently returned to work after a period off with mental distress. I like the term mental distress: it makes me feel like a new bit of furniture that's been roughed up to look like an antique.

I wanted to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to 'Time for Change', for all the work they do to normalise conversations around mental health. 'Time to talk' day is 2 February when, hopefully, lots of people up and down the country will be turning to each other and asking 'how are you?'

We are not quite at the point where rival football fans chant 'how are you' at each other rather than 'who are you?', but a lot of progress has been made, particularly in the workplace.

There is, of course, still a great deal of shame and stigma around poor mental health. Talking can help but you often have to choose the right moment. The Mental Health Foundation are right to point out that if you ask someone how they are and they say 'I'm fine', it doesn't necessarily mean that they are.  But these kinds of conversations are always going to be complicated.

For starters, some of us are still afflicted by that British reserve which makes us shy away from emotional intimacy. Also, many of us are quite private and like to deal with things in our own way and in our own time. Or, as I said, the moment might not be right for that kind of conversation. Are there other people around who might overhear? Will it feel too much like a confession? And where will the conversation go?

From personal experience I know that things can also change from morning to afternoon, from one day to the next. Fine today, not so fine the next and so on. So it is tricky.

I think people are also a little scared of biting off more than they can chew when asking someone if they're ok. What if they start getting too heavy or personal? You know, the whole 'On The Waterfront' scenario: "You was my brother, Charley. You shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me, just a little bit..."

Saying 'I'm fine' can mean 'I'm not really fine, but I don't want to talk about it'. But it can also mean 'thanks for asking, I appreciate it'. Asking someone how they are signals to them that you care and that you might offer support should they need it at some point. Just because they don't take you up on your offer doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

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