My business head hurts

The ‘depression stigma’ is costing British business billions.

As the UK economy slips back into recession, it’s almost possible to hear the collective sigh of the country, fearing for their jobs, their futures. It is of course a technicality. Not a lot has changed since yesterday but it’s a great media story and one that will ripple across the UK business community, questioning its fragile confidence and prodding its stomach to see if it is made of stern stuff that can cope with bad news.

Of course no entrepreneur or business leader worth their salt would cave under the pressure. Unthinkable. But what about the staff? What about the people that make the business tick, that sell and create and organise? What if they cannot cope? What if they have a sea of problems at home and this news, leading to a fear of redundancy, is the final straw? Do they need to just buck-up and carry on?

Depression costs British businesses £9bn a year in potential lost earnings (All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics – Dec 2011) yet there is a stigma attached to depression and stress that is seemingly hard to shift.

Depression is one of those terms that is perhaps a little over-used. We’ve all done it and all heard it. Most people have at some point talked about “being depressed”, usually about the weather, but there is a belief, particularly within business, that it’s just an excuse to get off work for a bit. This has a knock-on effect. Depression is not taken seriously and real sufferers can be ignored and sometimes bullied.

It’s not just a British problem either. Earlier this month some statistics emerged from the World Health Care Conference claiming that mental health issues cost North America and Europe about four per cent of their combined domestic product, or $1.3 trillion each year. It also reported that 90 per cent of all mental health issues relate to depression and approximately 18 per cent of people in the workforce are currently battling depression.

Those are big statistics but they will do little to convince the sceptics. However it is quite clear that depression at work, whether you believe in it or not can lead to poor business performance. Brushing it under the carpet only exacerbates the problem and can lead to lost business opportunities and revenues.  That’s surely a language any business can understand.

Interestingly last year, Jo Swinson MP tabled a number of early day motions in Parliament to promote well-being, including a proposal to improve access to psychological therapies. She proposed a motion that the House “regards depression as a serious condition that can profoundly diminish a person’s wellbeing and recognises that psychological cognitive-behavioural therapy is an effective and scientifically validated form of treatment.”

It’s essentially why we set up Black Dog Tribe, to provide a sort of social therapy platform, where sufferers and carers can share experiences and hopefully help each other. What was really most healing for me when I had depression was meeting my own people, my tribe. It’s important to know you’re not alone and there is a kind of comfort in knowing that you both feel like the walking dead. It’s also such a relief to be with someone who will never say, “Perk up.”

These are small steps we are taking but what is ultimately the root cause for many people is individual business culture.  Not all businesses behave the same but where there is a culture of high octane sales and a need to impress the boss 24/7 with lots of success charts and high fives, the pressure can often be telling.

It was interesting to see the Bergen Work Addiction Scale' get some publicity recently. It looks at the kind of behaviour that is displayed by all kinds of addicts but related to the workplace. Work addiction is getting worse, according to the scale because the boundaries between home and office are becoming blurred, which leads to increased stress and in some cases breakdown. Surely these things are common sense? Businesses are as good as the people driving them but if you don’t look after your drivers you are going to crash.

 

Recession depression, Photograph: Getty Images.

Ruby Wax is the founder of Black Dog Tribe.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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